The pace of medtech innovation is happening faster than ever. Patients and their caregivers are taking more responsibility in owning their health. For some, that means relying on a wearable medical device to help them manage their condition.
Wearables may serve a critical role in patients’ day-to-day lives. They can help patients follow treatment plans, track their condition and communicate with their medical providers—all while still maintaining active, independent lifestyles. But to do that, these devices must meet several requirements. They need to fit easily into the patients’ lives, feel personalized, be comfortable and easy-to-use and have long-lasting power.
Designing a wearable that checks all of these boxes is easier said than done. However, the devices that successfully incorporate these needs may see higher compliance and more satisfied users. For design engineers looking to take their wearable device design to the next level, you may wish to use the following as a starting point for your next project.
Patients expect wearable medical devices to integrate into their lives with ease and be designed to weather the wear and tear of everyday life. Their condition doesn’t take days off, which means their management of the condition cannot either. And if a device prematurely falls off or falls apart before it is intended to, the patient cannot track their condition as closely as necessary.
Multiple tactics can be used to increase durability. When it comes to design, finding a balance between a slender profile and sturdy performance is the priority. As for material and component choice, selecting options that shield, dampen and absorb energy can help with the life of the device. To prevent edges from lifting or to improve the device’s aesthetics, consider flexible and durable materials.
The other part of life-proofing a device’s design is its ability to withstand outside forces. Users may expect water-resistance and long wear times. They also need resilience against bumps, tugs and pulls.
For successful wearable device functionality, the device must be comfortable for the user. If it is not, the user may be less likely to wear it.
Start with the device’s intended wear time. The longer the device needs to stay adhered, the more important comfort can become. Use stretchy, breathable materials that can reduce moisture build-up. From there, look to maximize the time between device applications and removals. To avoid medical adhesive-related skin injury, or MARSI, try to ensure sufficient time between the last removal and the next application to help keep the skin healthy. If you do not have control over the time between changes, use an adhesive that is gentler towards skin.
Another factor is the device’s size. If it is too big and bulky, but needs to be worn for an extended period of time, the user may not be as willing to comply. In general, inconvenience from the device use and its materials might not be tolerated.
Ease of Use
Technological advancements can greatly contribute to device effectiveness. But they are not valuable if the user cannot understand them. If a device has too many buttons or notifications, it can be confusing to operate.
Users need wearable medical devices that are easy and intuitive to operate; the risks of poor design might lead to non-compliance or even a patient receiving the wrong dose. For users to achieve consistent and sustained use, devices should provide clear-cut instructions for use and a straightforward design whenever possible. The device’s capabilities should align with what the patient needs.
Opportunity for Personalization
The expectations a user has on how a device should look varies. On the one hand, some patients want a discrete design, minimizing the visual evidence of their condition. On the other hand, there are patients who want to show off their device proudly. Making both ends of the spectrum happy might seem like an impossible task or seem to conflict with manufacturers hoping to produce on a mass scale. But it can be possible to find workarounds and common ground.
For some, that workaround is personalized cover tapes. They can serve as an optional customization opportunity for patients looking to wear their device proudly without the need for every patient to do the same.
A device’s power source could be its lifeline. When a wearable device doesn’t have adequate power, it is not only inconvenient and frustrating to the patient, but it could be a safety issue if they need to change the battery or recharge the device frequently. These gaps could lead to a potential loss of data, critical for monitoring the patient’s health.
When looking to determine what kind of power source is right for the device, consider how much space you can allow for a battery and what kind of charging options you have available. From there, the decision becomes whether to make the device rechargeable or battery operated. Take into account the patient’s experience—would a battery be easy to remove? How long would the battery need to last, or how often would it need to be changed?
Prioritizing power management may lead to more consistent data collection. It can also cost less per unit to make and maintain over the device’s lifetime. With better power efficiency, the device could be smaller, contributing to a slimmer profile that increases patient comfort as well.
There’s no equation to find the perfect solution to meet all user needs, so being able to identify the top priorities and find balance in wearable design is the key to success. It can take some creativity to come to the final product. But the hurdle isn’t surmountable. Design engineers are able to improve patient lives through their work. It is up to them, and device manufacturers, to keep pace.