More Device Design: Stanford PostDoc Weighs In

And the discussion of how to make medical devices more like iPods marches on! … Don’t miss yesterday’s piece at the UK’s Guardian, which actually tried to contact Apple for comment (no comment forthcoming).  Also see the coverage at MacUser, and BrandWeek’s take, which suggests that Steve Jobs ought to start by revamping hearing aids.  A heck of a lot of buzz created for the medical-cum-lifestyle design cause, what say?!

On the diabetes design front, we may have found the champion we seek in Stanford Postdoctoral Fellow Joel Goldsmith, previously with Medtronic’s diabetes division, who says:

Joel_g_3 “What’s funny is that these companies tend to think that people with diabetes are somehow not the same people as those buying iPods and Nintendos and Razor phones.  Why would they feel any less strongly about design issues?  If they have to live with these devices 24/7, why wouldn’t they feel even stronger about it?”

I had a long talk with Joel yesterday, and this guy has got it goin’ on, I tell you! He’s a UCLA MBA with extensive industry experience, who’s just spent a year with Stanford’s “incubator” Biodesign Innovation Program. The program puts small groups of engineers, physicians, and students to work on identifying “unmet clinical needs” and proposing one or more solution prototypes. His group this year focused on orthopedic issues, but his heart still lies in diabetes care, he says.

Here’s what Joel had to say in reaction to our Steve Jobs design appeal:

“When I was at Medtronic, I cited the iPod many times as what we should be aspiring for. It’s not only attractive and aesthetic, but also incredibly easy to navigate, and can be discreetly worn… It’s become a lifestyle product — an extension of people’s identity, and it’s a pleasure to use.”

“Apple uses the technology to mask the technical complexity of its products. That’s what they do so well. So it’s an intuitive experience.”

“Back then, it was an uphill battle for me to convince (Medtronic) that what we were selling was not justStanford_boys_2 an insulin delivery device, but a fully integrated diabetes managment system. That concept is not so novel anymore. Medtronic actually has the most integrated system at the moment.  I think we’ll see all the companies in this space offering the full set of components — insulin delivery, glucose sensing, software that interprets the data, and the disposable components as well.  And then what will differentiate all these offerings is service and support, cost, and especially the form factor, the appeal of the products.”

“I don’t see anyone, with the exception of Insulet, that has placed a heavy emphasis on design. They’re setting an example; it’s not perfect, but a big step in the right direction.”

“Most companies still treat these items as pure ‘medical devices,’ rather than actually as consumer electronics that also happen to have an important medical function.  It shocks me that this mindset isn’t more prevalent here in Silicon Valley, where all the technology intelligence is. If I can’t find it here, I can’t find it anywhere….”

Lucky for us, Joel has aspirations to tackle this change.  He notes that the obstacles lie not in the technology, which is “all there,” but rather in the old-school mindset and bureaucracy typical of many large corporations.  Keep your eye on the start-ups! (Where Joel is likely to land)

Even the big companies are on the move, albeit slowly.  For example, Joel did a stint helping a group at Qualcomm Corp. experiment with using the company’s wireless chipsets for application in medical devices. 

Editor’s Note: For PWD Mac fans, a reader pointed out that Apple does offer a nice Diabetes Logbook for Mac OS X 10.4 or later versions.

15 Responses

  1. Suzanne
    Suzanne April 12, 2007 at 12:31 pm | | Reply

    Great post! Thanks. I wish Minimed would work on its insulin pump design… that’s part of the reason I chose Animas. Animas really has a sleeker, less “medical device-y” design and the screens seem easier to navigate to me. But ultimately we’ll all be switching to Minimed once the continuous glucose monitoring improves (I’m still waiting on that!) and gets covered by insurance. If only the other insulin pump companies could keep up with them, Minimed would have some real competition!

  2. Felix Kasza
    Felix Kasza April 12, 2007 at 1:37 pm | | Reply

    Um, would Joel have an MBA, or a marketing-type education?

    I do not care whether my MP3 player craps out or if my phone makes whooshing noises.

    I _do_ care if my pump fails because some idiot put design over sturdiness. Perhaps Joel would like to be reminded of the old watchword: “Form follows function.” And the function here is, d’oh!, the delivery of insulin and reception of sensor data.

    “iPump”. When that sort of pump is the only pump available, I go back to shots.

    Cheers,
    Felix.

  3. calvin
    calvin April 12, 2007 at 2:52 pm | | Reply

    Design is not a wholly aesthetic exercise! Good design considers all the needs of the users while striving to make it “a pleasure to use.”

    In a case like this, many design considerations must be weighed and compromises made accordingly. Sturdiness and reliability are obviously not up for discussion and the current level of quality of these elements would have to be maintained or bettered. I don’t think Amy or Joel would disagree on that point.

    However, absent other design inputs (like ease of use, the need for the device to be discreetly worn, etc), a device can succeed functionally and still fail to please the user!

  4. Bernard Farrell
    Bernard Farrell April 12, 2007 at 5:55 pm | | Reply

    Amy

    In reading the comments I see two broads groups. The first are those who say, we need reliability. I don’t want my pump to crash. We can have BOTH, in some ways better design is easier to put in than reliability.

    The other group are those of us who recognize just how important this is. We don’t want to continue to spend our lives tethered to these ugly awkward black boxes that lack beauty in so many ways. And I for one (and I’m sure Scott Hanselman agrees with me) would like to see these devices start to work together instead of separately.

    This is NOT rocket science. Unfortunately the companies don’t hear from their consumers enough. And I’m also guilty of this.

    What we also need are open letters to the CEO of Medtronic, OneTouch, and all the other companies who make the devices that we depend on for our lives.

  5. Anne
    Anne April 12, 2007 at 6:01 pm | | Reply

    I definitely considered design when I chose my Animas, even though it meant a slight inconvenience of having to fill the insulin reservoir more frequently. (My Animas pump holds less insulin than my former Disetronic.) An additional design consideration was that the Animas is waterproof (which they really stand by). For me, the “design” issue of being waterproof translates directly into a medical care issue, because it means that I can wear it while swimming, which gives me better glycemic control during and after.
    A more convenient interface makes me more like to take advantage of setting and experimenting with different BG correction factors and glucose to insulin ratios. And when I fine-tune these parameters, my control improves. For many, improved form leads directly to improved function. (Of course some will do all the math in their heads and I congratulate them on that! I can’t keep track of it all these days.)
    Great post, Amy. I’m glad to hear that there are those in a position to make a difference, who are also listening.
    Now what would be really cool is if I could have a phone/iPod/pump/BGmeter/CGMS/…

  6. "honey sweet"
    "honey sweet" April 13, 2007 at 4:12 am | | Reply

    People with diabetes useiPods.

    Amy Tenderich, author of the Diabetes Mine web log, wrote an open letter to Steve Jobs requesting his help in getting diabetes device manufacturers to incorporate more industrial design in their products. Diabetes test and monitoring devices tend to b…

  7. "honey sweet"
    "honey sweet" April 13, 2007 at 4:12 am | | Reply

    People with diabetes useiPods.

    Amy Tenderich, author of the Diabetes Mine web log, wrote an open letter to Steve Jobs requesting his help in getting diabetes device manufacturers to incorporate more industrial design in their products. Diabetes test and monitoring devices tend to b…

  8. "honey sweet"
    "honey sweet" April 13, 2007 at 4:12 am | | Reply

    People with diabetes useiPods.

    Amy Tenderich, author of the Diabetes Mine web log, wrote an open letter to Steve Jobs requesting his help in getting diabetes device manufacturers to incorporate more industrial design in their products. Diabetes test and monitoring devices tend to b…

  9. Martin Jensen
    Martin Jensen April 13, 2007 at 5:41 am | | Reply

    As a diabetic (30+ years) and a software design/analyst (20+ yrs) and a health care business analyst (15+), I have to say you are very much on the right track. Good design is not only consistent with reliability, but *insistent* upon it. For instance — sleek and easy to use, attractive, “cool” even — these are key delivery points for a major (and THE most profitable) pump constituency: kids and young adults. Making a pump that kids will use is more than just slick marketing — it will extend their lives.

    Waterproofness? No-brainer. I once jumped into a pool without noticing my 508 was still on my hip — and I was 40! Good thing I had a donated spare in the closet while we sent off for a (48 hour) replacement. If I was parent to a diabetic child, this would be on the must-have list. But why not every freeking pump? This is basically a body part to us. Would you be willing to live with a knee that wasn’t waterproof? Duh.

    Last year I upgraded to a Paradigm, and it still has some dumb features. Really dumb. Like, for instance, if you’re in a hurry and you just changed your set and you forget to press the button to get out of Prime mode, it just sits there for hours without warning you. Meanwhile it delivers NO insulin.

    The real design problem, in my eyes, is the infusion set racket. Basically, we have each manufacturer coming up with a unique form factor and selling the dang things for $$$ a pop. This is market-based healthcare at its finest. If the market pressure was exerted by purchasers (i.e. consumers, employers, government) rather than controlled by the sellers (manufacturers, health plans), then we would have a standard for the consumables (every infusion set would work with every standard pump, purchasers would insist on standard for reimbursement), which would create competition and price/quality wars rather than the current collusive practice where manufacturers just compete for market share at a given price point, and insurers haggle for discounts while ignoring the bigger problem.

    With so many un-pumped diabetics in the country, the current “design” of the market is shameful.

  10. Jules
    Jules April 13, 2007 at 6:51 am | | Reply

    One word…”OmniPod”

  11. Justin Siebel
    Justin Siebel April 13, 2007 at 1:21 pm | | Reply

    I’m a senior industrial design (product and consumer good) student. And have based my design thesis on modern diabetic devices for children.

    In my design I have made many innovations in the design of the pump, CGM, and controller.

    But for a child to use and understand the devices I put child-like styling on the devices, and made the interface understandable for the child.

    The child can understand blood sugars and the effects of diet exercise and health, and grow up knowledgeable and healthy.

    Good aesthetic design can make a person feel better and be intuitive to use. Many devices induce frustration and stress, and fail in designing for a person.

    I’m presenting my thesis next Wednesday the 18th at Philadelphia University, then starting Friday May 4th it will be on display for a week, at The Design Center in center city Philadelphia. Anyone interested in coming to my presentation please e-mail me siebel2@philau.edu.

    -Justin Siebel

    By the way the phrase “form follows function” is grossly missed used; one isn’t dependent by the other. They are both important throughout the design process, and care equal.

  12. Sarah
    Sarah April 13, 2007 at 1:38 pm | | Reply

    “Last year I upgraded to a Paradigm, and it still has some dumb features. Really dumb. Like, for instance, if you’re in a hurry and you just changed your set and you forget to press the button to get out of Prime mode, it just sits there for hours without warning you. Meanwhile it delivers NO insulin”

    Ack! That IS bad! My Cozmo will beep until I press “done”, so I’ve never had that problem! The Cozmo is also waterproof, looks fairly decent, and can use ANY infusion set brand.

    I think the problem is that the majority of pumpers are given MiniMed pumps, which (to me) do lack an aesthetically pleasing design. There are better options out there right now, which have been proven effective and safe.

    Although I expect “diabetes supplies” to look like diabetes supplies, I can understand where people are coming from.

    Especially those who are teens, fashionistas, artists, and “gadget” people. I would love to have a VERY cool looking pump, but as I hide my discrete grey Cozmo anyway, it really wouldn’t make a difference to me personally. I do think we should have a say in what we want though. Companies who don’t poll their potential customers lack insight.

  13. Felix Kasza
    Felix Kasza April 14, 2007 at 2:00 pm | | Reply

    Hello again!

    Justin wrote, à propos of his design thesis:

    ‘By the way the phrase “form follows function” is grossly missed used; one isn’t dependent by the other. They are both important throughout the design process, and care equal.’

    They are _not_ equal. Complexity is bad; simplicity is good. Add MP3-playing capabilities to an insulin pump’s firmware, and the complexity of testing (never mind actually writing the code) just went up as the _product_ of the complexity of each component. That is why we have engineers building those things; designers get — maybe — to provide input on the shape of the case.

    Martin Jensen wrote:

    ‘Last year I upgraded to a Paradigm, and it still has some dumb features. Really dumb. Like, for instance, if you’re in a hurry and you just changed your set and you forget to press the button to get out of Prime mode, it just sits there for hours without warning you. Meanwhile it delivers NO insulin.’

    Your pump will alarm every fifteen minutes while it is in suspend mode. That includes it being in priming state. I recommend consulting an ENT or audiologist.

    Cheers,
    Felix.

  14. People with diabetes use iPods. | Khürt

    [...] have picked up the story and open discussion is underway. This is what I think Amy expected. In her follow up post she interviews a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellow, Joel Goldsmith, who worked at Medtronic and provides [...]

  15. Last week’s (April 19) letters and blog pingbacks in full

    [...] >> On the diabetes design front, we may have found the champion we seek in Stanford Postdoctoral Fellow Joel Goldsmith, previously with Medtronic’s diabetes division, who says: “What’s funny is that these [insulin pump] companies tend to think that people with diabetes are somehow not the same people as those buying iPods and Nintendos and Razor phones. Why would they feel any less strongly about design issues? If they have to live with these devices 24/7, why wouldn’t they feel even stronger about it?” http://www.diabetesmine.com/2007/04/more_device_des.html [...]

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