First and foremost, medical devices have to be safe and effective. There’s no question about that. But lately some patients have been demanding that medical device manufacturers go one step further. They want products that are not only easy to use, but look good too.
Amy Tenderich expresses that thought in an open letter to Steve Jobs of Apple on her blog, Diabetes Mine (www.diabetesmine.com). Tenderich exhorts Jobs to sponsor a contest for the best-designed medical device. We don’t support that idea (we’d rather leave that to experts in medical design), but her comments generally make a lot of sense.
In the letter she says, “In short, medical device manufacturers are stuck in a bygone era; they continue to design these products in an engineering-driven, physician-centered bubble. They have not yet grasped the concept that medical devices are also life devices, and therefore need to feel good and look good for the patients using them 24/7, in addition to keeping us alive.”
As of press time, Tenderich’s blog entry had received 51 thoughtful comments, most agreeing with her premise.
“Would this make me any healthier?” writes respondent TMac. “Not by itself…[but] if making the user experience more friendly [leads] me to take readings that many more times a day, then yes, it just might lead to better control, and overall contribute to better health and a longer, more enjoyable, productive life.” TMac continues, “Sure, it may just be a small design issue, but in my daily fight to take personal responsibility for my illness and all that comes with it, every little bit helps.”
Some manufacturers are taking notice of these user concerns. Philips Medical Systems (Andover, MA; www.medical.philips.com) has launched its Sense & Simplicity campaign. The company is just beginning to introduce new products that it has designed by talking to users and owners about its equipment and putting their ideas into practice.
GE Healthcare (Barrington, IL; www.gehealthcare.com) is also following this trend. The company is taking its cues from consumer electronics. In fact, it recently created a new job called “disruptive technologies marketing manager.” This person, who is not an engineer, is charged with looking at other industries to find technologies that would make medical devices easier to use.
One of the first products to come out of this new program is still in the design stage and uses technology borrowed from video game creators. It is a unit that will allow a surgeon to view images on a screen either by speaking into a microphone or by waving his hands at a camera. This will eliminate the need for a doctor to touch anything that might contaminate his hands during surgery.
First and foremost, medical devices must be safe and effective. Making them easier to use and better looking probably will make them more safe and more effective. GE and Philips are definitely on the right track.
In this issue, we profile several other companies and their suppliers, that are making strides in medical device design. For more information, turn to page 36 for our special section on Engineering Excellence.
Susan Shepard, Managing Editor