Patients and medical devices: Patient-centric by design

*Andrew Tolve reports on how initiatives like the DiabetesMine Design Challenge can help forge brand loyalty and create trust with online communities*

Andrew Tolve reports on how initiatives like the DiabetesMine Design Challenge can help forge brand loyalty and create trust with online communities

From the patient perspective, medical devices are double-edged swords.

On the one hand, they help manage chronic conditions that otherwise would need daily professional oversight. On the other hand, they tend to be clunky, emit unpleasant sounds, prove cumbersome to carry, and lack aesthetic appeal.

In an era when everyone from young kids to septuagenarians sport iPods, iPads, and other sleek devices, the awkwardness of med devices can lead patients to feel bad about themselves and resent their conditions rather than enthusiastically manage them.

One patient community, DiabetesMine, has decided to do something about it. The 2011 DiabetesMine Design Challenge aims to generate innovative solutions that make med devices more fetching, more fun, more intuitive, and as a result more effective.

The idea of the challenge is to take the problems that real patients experience and use the power and spirit of crowd-sourcing to solve them, says Allison Blass, assistant editor of DiabetesMine. (For more on patient communities, see The power of patient groups and How patient advocacy groups can boost patient compliance.)

The DiabetesMine Design Challenge

The Design Challenge is now in its fourth year and was born out of an open letter that Amy Tenderich, the creator of DiabetesMine, posted to Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

The letter called for the gurus of consumer design to help revolutionize the design of diabetes devices.

In the weeks and months that followed, numerous individuals and organizations came forward with compelling new prototypes, designs, and ideas.

This years challenge will be followed by a Diabetes Innovation Summit that will bring together patient advocates, medical device designers, investors, and other experts.

Its all about making patient-centered care a truly meaningful term, says Tenderich.

The DiabetesMine Design Challenge is open to anyone who wants to enter, from tech designers and doctors to patients, caregivers, kids, and R&D pros.

Submissions are accepted in the form of short YouTube clips or written elevator pitches supported by graphics.

All submissions are available for review on the DiabetesMine Design Challenge website, and open community voting determines the top 10 finalists.

A panel of judges then selects three winners that receive $7,000 in cash to help refine and realize their design concepts.

Winners also get tickets to the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, complementary consulting sessions with IDEO, and an introduction to Silicon Valley investors.

The deadline for this years entries is April 29th, and winners will be announced in June.

We need to address the issues that are important from the patients perspective, says Blass, and thats what the Design Challenge is all about. Youre a patient, youre a caregiver, what do you think an exciting solution could be?

Fresh ideas

In the past four years, the challenge has inspired an impressive array of solutions.

While no one has figured out how to physically turn an iPhone into an insulin pump yet, competitors have created everything from games to iPhone interfaces to new devices, like retractable insulin pump tubing.

In 2009, one of the overall winners was the LifeCase & LifeApp System, a comprehensive solution that integrates a glucose meter, lancer, and test strip storage into a protective case that slips around an iPhone.

Whenever patients use the device, results are automatically logged into the phone.

In 2010, the most popular grand prize-winner was Finn the Glucose Fish, a bright, yellow, dorsal-finned carrying case for a glucose monitor.

Back when I was eight and first dealing with diabetes, if someone had said You get to carry this around and use it every day, it would have been more exciting than carrying around a boring blue and gray glucose meter, says Blass, a Type 1 diabetic.

Pricking your finger every day is still a hassle, but now you have this cool yellow fish. Those are the types of things that patients want and that pharmaceutical companies often overlook.

The pharma effect

As pharma seeks to embrace a more patient-centric approach, initiatives like the DiabetesMine Design Challenge offer clues about the best way to proceed.

For one, challenges like this show just how vocal, creative, and eager for change patients really are.

Those companies that prove receptive and show theyre listening can forge brand loyalty and trust in the process.

If pharma companies can identify influencers in the online space and then reach out and find out what people are saying, they can go a long way toward creating trust with online communities, says Blass, who used to work in pharma in patient outreach and monitoring.

But pharma has to do more than just listen. If they actually want to transition out of a one-size-fits-all mentality, its critical to bring in new thinking.

Challenges like the one from DiabetesMine highlight promising, often untapped talent.

One of the designers of the LifeCase & LifeApp System is Samantha Katz, who was a graduate student at Northwestern University back in 2009.

She now works at Medtronic, which identified her as a source of unique creativity and patient understanding.

One of the most effective ways to get some of these ideas into companies is to make sure that youre looking to hire people who are really passionate about innovative design and user experience, says Blass.

Some people within industry might say, No we cant do this. Somebody else, from another industry, might go ahead and show that its possible. If pharma wants to expand its innovation, they need to bring those thought leaders onboard.

For more on patients, join the sectors other key players at Patient Adherence, Communication & Engagement Europe from May 31 to June 1 in Berlin.

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