The future of medical device design is in our hands. Here’s what it’ll take to get there.
Tony Kaufman, 3M
It’s an exciting and challenging time in medical device history. From tracking vital signs to enabling more informed conversations with health professionals, device users can take control of their health in new and powerful ways.
But the rapid acceleration and advancement of data is only just beginning. What lies ahead is a complex web of questions that one person, one team, one company alone can’t solve.
For example, how can we further prioritize user experience from the start of the device’s development? How can we keep pushing the bounds of wear time? What have we learned from COVID that we can bring forward?
To unlock continued innovation that improves lives, all of us from across the device development process must come together to brainstorm, problem-solve and break down siloes.
It’s a big task. Where do we start? As someone who partners with some of the largest medical device companies, I’ve learned a lot about where we’re struggling and what’s holding us back. To propel us into the future, here are four areas to focus on first.
1. Create a nimble supply chain
We talk a lot about what we’re innovating: What’s the device, what’s the existing technology, what do we need to accomplish?
To take devices to the next level, we need to talk more about how we’re going to innovate. How can we set the entire development ecosystem up for success?
While that can include teams and internal processes, the supply chain is one area that deeply affects the ability to develop devices. The level of medical device regulation poses unique challenges when trying to scale to meet demand. But it’s also a competitive area, and we’d benefit from finding ways to not completely eliminate risk, but to properly manage risks. Increasing supply chain nimbleness is a must.
Other highly regulated markets have found success with rapid prototyping. It could be a way to work within the confines of medical device regulations and quickly understand what works, what doesn’t and what we can do about it. Then adjust and tweak before finalizing designs, materials, manufacturing processes and more.
2. Design the full system
Adhesives don’t typically keep people up at night (though if they do for you, you’re in welcome company). Often relegated to being an afterthought in device design, they’re seen as a simple material that holds tactical value — sticking one thing to another thing.
But when they aren’t thoughtfully designed-in from the start, they have the potential to cause costly and time-consuming redesigns. Many devices are complex systems, and adhesives are just one, albeit important, layer. With many competing priorities in a limited timeframe, it can be challenging to give every little thing its rightful attention.
How do we reconcile? We can start by identifying the most-often-deprioritized components and understand their role in the entire system. What do they ultimately enable for the design and the end user? Talk with colleagues, mentors and partners inside of and beyond your function to get their perspectives.
From there, your design has the potential to get stronger, and with stronger designs, we’re advancing what’s possible today.
3. Prioritize device security
A real challenge in medtech is handling cybersecurity for novel and legacy devices. It’s not a new challenge, but it’s taken on a renewed sense of urgency.
Up to now, more passive forms of security measures like shielding films may have sufficed. However, the dialogue needs to evolve to discuss how we can incorporate active measures into devices on the market today and in the future, and how regulatory bodies can validate and defend.
4. Balance the art and science of design
The funny thing about data is that more isn’t always better. Similarly, the latest technology isn’t always intuitive. So finding the right combination — incorporating the latest tech to get the best data insights while creating a user-friendly experience — is a mix of art and science.
The level and type of data a device needs to collect should inform whether it can be worn on the wrist or elsewhere on the body. Wrist-worn wearables aren’t as secure but work well for fitness-related metrics, such as tracking calories burned. On the other hand, body-worn wearable patches can adhere directly to skin, creating an intimate connection to the data source. This form factor may be better for tracking medically sound metrics like glucose levels for continuous glucose monitors.
On top of that, if your ideal end user doesn’t understand how to use it from when they apply it to when they remove it, they’re not likely to want to use it again or recommend it to others.
As expectations of interacting with data, technology and devices continue to advance, we get to continue problem-solving along with it, testing, validating and finding what works, ultimately leaving our mark on the journey toward a healthier world.
Collaborate for the future of medical devices
Together, we can ignite the next wave of device innovation. We can create a reality in which devices are on the cutting edge, providing the insights people need to take control of their health. As a result, people will feel safe, empowered and confident because of them.
Whether you’re involved in designing the devices, manufacturing them or beyond, we all have the power to move together and usher in the next generation. How will you help?
Tony Kaufman is new business ventures lead for the Medical Materials & Technologies Business at 3M and has more than 24 years of medical device design, development and manufacturing experience. Kaufman is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified, has utilized finite element analysis modeling in various ways to solve challenges and accelerate product development, and holds a degree in biological systems engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The opinions expressed in this post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of MedicalDesignandOutsourcing.com or its employees.