4 ways to usher in the next generation of medical device design

4 ways to usher in the next generation of medical device design

4 ways to usher in the next generation of medical device design

A woman with a wearable medical device taped to her head

[Photo courtesy of 3M]

The future of medical device design is in our hands. Here’s what it takes to get there.

Tony Kaufman, 3M

This is an exciting and challenging time in the history of medical devices. From monitoring vital signs to enabling more informed conversations with healthcare providers, device users can take control of their health in new and powerful ways.

But the rapid acceleration and advancement of data is just beginning. What lies ahead is a complex network of issues that one person, one team, one company cannot solve alone.

For example, how can we further prioritize user experience from the beginning of device development? How can we continue to push the boundaries of wearable time? What have we learned from COVID that we can take forward?

To unlock continuous innovation that improves lives, all of us from across the device development process must come together to design, solve problems and break down silos.

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 struggle and what’s holding us back. To propel us into the future, here are four areas to focus on first.

1. Create an agile supply chain

We talk a lot about what we are innovating: what is the device, what is the existing technology, what do we need to achieve?

To take devices to the next level, we need to talk more about how we’re going to innovate. How can we set up the entire development ecosystem for success?

While it may involve teams and internal processes, the supply chain is one area that profoundly affects the ability to develop devices. The level of medical device regulation poses unique challenges when trying to expand to meet demand. But it is also a competitive field, and we would benefit from finding ways not to eliminate risk entirely, but to manage risks properly. Increasing the agility of the supply chain is essential.

Other highly regulated markets have succeeded with rapid prototyping. It could be a way of working within medical device regulations and quickly understanding what works and what doesn’t and what we can do about it. Then adjust and refine before finalizing the design, materials, manufacturing processes and more.

2. Design the complete system

Glues don’t usually keep people up at night (although if they do for you, you’re welcome to the company). They are often seen as a simple material that has a tactical value – sticking one thing to another.

But when not thoughtfully designed from the start, they have the potential to cause costly and time-consuming redesigns. Many devices are complex systems, and adhesives are only one, albeit important, layer. With many competing priorities in a limited time frame, it can be challenging to give every detail the right attention.

How can we reconcile? We can start by identifying the most frequently de-prioritized components and understanding their role in the overall system. What do they ultimately enable the design and the end user? Talk to colleagues, mentors, and partners inside and outside your function to get their perspectives.

From there, your design has the potential to become stronger, and with stronger design, we improve what is possible today.

3. Prioritize device security

The real challenge in medical technology is handling cybersecurity for new and old devices. It’s not a new challenge, but it has taken on a renewed sense of urgency.

Until now, more passive forms of security measures such as protective film may have been sufficient. However, the dialogue needs to evolve to discuss how we can build 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 is not always intuitive. So finding the right combination—incorporating the latest technology to get the best data insights while creating a user experience—is a mixture of art and science.

The level and type of data the 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 they work well for fitness-related metrics like tracking calories burned. On the other hand, body-worn patches can be stuck directly to the skin, creating an intimate connection with the data source. This form factor may be better for monitoring medically valid metrics such as glucose levels for continuous glucose monitors.

On top of that, if your ideal end user doesn’t understand how to use it from the time they apply it to the time they remove it, they’re unlikely to want to use it again or recommend it to others.

As expectations for interaction with data, technology and devices continue to advance, we continue to problem solve along with it, testing, validating and finding what works, ultimately making our mark on the journey towards a healthier world.

Collaborate for the future of medical devices

Together, we can drive the next wave of device innovation. We can create a reality where devices are at the cutting edge, providing the insights people need to take control of their health. As a result, they will make people feel safe, empowered and confident.

Whether you’re involved in designing devices, manufacturing them, or more, we all have the power to move together and usher in the next generation. How will you help?

Portrait of Tony Kaufman, who leads new business ventures for the medical materials and technologies business at 3M

Tony Kaufman is the new business venture leader for the medical materials and technologies business at 3M. [Photo courtesy of 3M]

Tony Kaufman leads new business ventures Business of medical materials and technologies at 3M and has more than 24 years of experience in the design, development and manufacture of medical devices. Kaufman is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, has used Finite Element Analysis modeling in a variety of ways to solve challenges and accelerate product development, and holds a BS in Biological Systems Engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its employees.

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