Why growth in implants requires a more integrated approach to design

The relationship between people and tech is growing in complexity, which means we need to ensure fully integrated and human-centred methodologies are at the core of medtech development processes, says Oscar Daws, co-founder and managing director, Tone Product Design.

Implantable medical devices have a longstanding history in healthcare, with pacemakers and cochlear implants being just a couple of examples. However, as our reliance on technology deepens, it’s increasingly evident that implantable devices will soon revolutionise various aspects of our lives, spanning from health monitoring to sustained drug delivery.

Active implantable medical devices (AIMDs) are rapidly evolving into smaller, smarter and more interconnected marvels. They boast enhanced efficiency, improved performance and expanded patient data capabilities. These advancements demand particular considerations when it comes to design.

At our design consultancy, we have to constantly strike a delicate balance between technical priorities and user-friendliness. A key objective is to minimise development risks while cultivating user trust, and simultaneously enhance manufacturing efficiency without compromising the device’s aesthetic appeal. Our mission is to discover solutions that harmonise seemingly conflicting priorities.

These are precisely the hurdles designers must surmount as implantable devices become commonplace. These challenges encompass psychological barriers, including building patient trust and substantiating the device’s value, along with devising innovative methods for keeping them powered that are simple, intuitive and comfortable for the patient to use. Interestingly, for patients, the ‘product’ in an implantable device is, in many ways, its interface. The device itself often remains unseen and unfelt, only reminding users of its presence during recharging, refilling, or via a connected application. The benefits are substantial, but the device’s work is essentially invisible.

A paradigm shift in design coordination

The global AIMD market was valued at approximately $85.31 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to $143.1 billion by 2028. The world is waking up to the potential of AIMDs, which are continually advancing. Examples include continuous-glucose-monitoring implants for diabetic adults, which pair with mobile apps; inserts delivering micro-electrical impulses to sleep apnoea patients to keep their airways open, and devices assisting in managing Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors.

The vast potential for health improvements using AIMDs extends from existing highly specialised medical interventions to broader enhancements in quality of life. This encompasses continuous health monitoring, long-term pain management and human-machine interfaces for individuals with severe disabilities. Given the deeply integrated and interdependent nature of this design challenge, the role of the design manager becomes increasingly pivotal. Their responsibility is to ensure every touchpoint delivers a seamless and consistent user experience, from physical product design to packaging, digital user experience (UX) and user interface (UI), instructions for use and physician-side software. Unlike conventional healthtech products and apps, one cannot easily discontinue the use of an implantable device, making it imperative for manufacturers to adopt a human-centred approach in every decision and ensure that the design is right from the start.

Addressing battery capacity and beyond

While battery capacity may seem like an engineering matter, its impact on a patient’s quality of life cannot be overstated. Frequent recharging, especially if the charging system isn’t user-friendly, can significantly affect the patient’s experience. Consequently, AIMDs for lower-risk health and wellness interventions demand a higher level of design rigour than most current health-tech products and external apps.

Getting personal

Though implantables presently benefit individuals with critical health issues, there’s an emerging opportunity for implantables being developed for personal health reasons. 

As our connection with technology deepens, more of us will opt for implantables to enhance self-care, akin to wearable technology. In these contexts, the considerations outlined above become even more critical. For anything less than a life-saving medical intervention, the device must appeal to users on a personal level; technical features alone won’t suffice.

The trend we’ve seen with the success of continuous glucose monitors in the general population (see Supersapiens and Zoe) also validates that the general public is willing to adopt new medical technologies to help better understand their own bodies. 

DSruptive, a deep-tech company specialising in implantable microelectronics, is a good example of this. It is pushing the parameters of application – for example, in body-temperature monitoring, which can be an important first step in disease prevention – and experiencing take-up among those who want to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. 

Collaborative design approaches

Our work with Proteus Digital Health, a digital medicines company, exemplifies the significance of comprehensive design, engineering and manufacturing coordination. Proteus, developers of the first FDA-approved ingestible sensor, sought our expertise in designing packaging that would simplify patient setup at home and be distributed via mail-order pharmacies. Instead of working in isolation, we gathered with experts from app design, engineering, graphics and clinical teams to devise an efficient approach. All our roles converged to create a user-friendly and secure product, alleviating patient apprehensions about potential errors.

As healthcare, technology, patient needs and design evolve, we must recognise that we’re dealing with a complex puzzle, not a linear system. To fully embrace new innovations, integration and human-centred design must be at the core of our approach, uniting all the elements involved in this transformative journey.

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.