Medical devices show is put in the emotion picture

Emotional factors need to play a much greater role in medical product design, according to exhibitors at the Medical Device Technology show in Birmingham last week.

Four consultancies – DCA Design International, Kinneir Dufort, PDD and Pearson Matthews – exhibited their ‘taster’ ideas in a showcase aimed at anticipating future trends in medical practice. Wearable technology, growing ‘consumerisation’ and the importance of ’emotional wellbeing’ emerged as key considerations.

Kinneir Dufort senior design consultant Russell Beard says emotional wellbeing is significant in the broadest sense. ‘It’s not about bleeps, clicks and sympathetic words. Diabetes sufferers don’t want products that stigmatise them as invalids – self-medicating devices should be no less stylish than MP3 players.’

DCA managing director Rob Woolston thinks people want to ‘semi-disguise’ medical devices as lifestyle items. ‘In all our research, people are always picking the more aesthetic, consumer-oriented device.’

Beard points out that emotional and person-to-person factors are increasingly seen as crucial to the recovery process.

Kinneir Dufort’s Unite wristband is worn by both the patient and their partner. The device holds the patient’s medical records and monitors their vital signs, but also links the two people via a ‘glowing detail’ on each wristband that ‘pulses in sync’.

Sensitive to touch, when one wristband is squeezed a similar sensation is felt in the other.

‘Unite recognises the need to be in contact and the need to stay apart. It respects boundaries, but also allows people to develop their own language, like text messaging on mobile phones,’ says Beard.

PDD head of science Alun Wilcox says ‘appropriateness to the user’ must be a guiding principle. ‘It’s about humanising technology, making it invisible,’ he explains. ‘Everybody has a TV and everybody has a bed – what can you do with that environment? There’s a still lot of potential in voice recognition interfaces and a smart mattress.’

Pearson Matthews product designer Matthew Young is concerned with how different ‘entry points’ to medical services change healthcare delivery.

‘We’re looking at what products you need when the entry point to healthcare expands from one – your GP – to many,’ he says. ‘We’re used to such a linear relationship, a one-way system involving GPs, but people are taking greater responsibility for their health and ownership of their medical data.’

Pearson Matthews’ ideas for the elderly or those affected by dementia include spectacles with built-in software that records a real-time picture of the wearer’s environment.

Gyms and supermarkets should cater better for the health needs of working people in Pearson Matthews’ vision, while children might use an allergy monitoring ‘patch’ like a rub-on tattoo.

Financial and regulatory issues would clearly play a part before any such ideas come to market. Designers are conscious of the ‘Big Brother’ implications of these devices, however, they agree an emotional consideration to technological developments can benefit both patients and healthcare professionals.

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