It’s been over 15 years, but the advent of Apple’s iPhone still represents one of the biggest paradigm shifts in the world of consumer technology. It fused style with substance; form with functionality. A sleek device simply and seamlessly integrated into our lives, transforming our day-to-day experiences—as well as how we interacted with its clunkier traditional counterpart, the personal computer.
And, perhaps most significantly, the iPhone was created from the ground up with experience as a guiding North Star.
A similar revolution is currently taking place in the medtech industry. So many medical devices have traditionally been created in pursuit of accuracy and efficacy at the expense of all else. But now, patient experience-focused design is taking hold—without sacrificing accuracy and efficacy—enhancing access and equity in healthcare delivery.
As we observe the significant advancements in the consumer medical devices market, we see people’s growing independence in monitoring and managing their health. They can track, record, and analyze a wide range of health metrics, leading to improved awareness and overall well-being. Still, a significant disparity arises when we turn our attention to the medical devices used by healthcare professionals. Unlike their consumer counterparts, these are often bulky, immobile, and inflexible.
This contrast raises an important question: Do medical devices always need to be large and rigid?
Many medical devices currently require controlled environments to ensure diagnostic accuracy, treatment efficacy, and patient safety. But what about the next generation of those devices?
We’re inching our way along to better, safer, more experience-focused medical devices—like ultrasound systems that connect directly with smartphones, smaller, easier-to-use holter monitors, or mobile autorefractors that allow healthcare professionals to provide accurate exams outside of an eye clinic—but the industry as a whole still has a long way to go.
The time is ripe for Medtech’s iPhone moment. Flexible, portable medical diagnostic devices are the future, augmenting equity and access to quality healthcare. That means designing for patients as well as caregivers, creating devices that are intuitive, easy to use, and easily adaptable to various environments. It’s not just about reducing the size of the devices but improving their adaptability to be used wherever they are most needed.
There are a few key tenets of experience-focused design in medical technology.
Safe: Modern medical devices shouldn’t just meet the safety standards of their predecessors. They should exceed them wherever possible. That can come about in obvious ways, like lower radiation doses for portable x-rays or IV infusion systems that are built specifically to prevent medication errors, for example, or in less-direct forms. By considering safe and ergonomic design, medical device manufacturers have the opportunity to prevent repetitive strain injuries, or even discomfort, among the professionals that use them every day. Ultimately, a safe medical device empowers patients and healthcare providers to manage health conditions confidently and without fear of unintended harm.
Simple: Just as the iPhone’s simplicity in design led to its wide adoption, simplicity should be a cornerstone of medical device design. Medical devices need to be user-friendly, regardless of the user’s technical proficiency. For the end-user, whether a patient or a healthcare professional, the interaction with the device should be as straightforward as possible. Clear, intuitive interfaces and controls can help minimize the risk of user error, improving the overall quality of care. Moreover, the simplicity principle also means designing devices that are easy to maintain and troubleshoot. Ultimately, simplicity enhances usability, user adoption, and consequently, patient outcomes.
Smart: A smart medical device should be able to integrate seamlessly with other devices and systems, allowing for easy, real-time sharing and analysis of health data, resulting in more accurate diagnoses and personalized treatment plans. Furthermore, smart medical devices can lean on the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to self-optimize and self-calibrate.
As we inch closer to medtech’s iPhone moment, it’s worth visualizing a world where the convergence of intelligent design and advanced technology empowers everyone, regardless of location, physical abilities, or economic status, to have unprecedented access to quality healthcare.
As medical technology gets more portable and easier to use, convenience and accessibility will dramatically improve patient experiences and outcomes, particularly in remote or under-resourced areas where healthcare services are limited.
The innovative leap that saw the smartphone become an integral part of our lives demonstrates that such a future is not just conceivable but achievable. By adopting a patient experience-focused design, medtech companies have the opportunity to reshape the healthcare landscape drastically—enhancing equity, amplifying access, maximizing safety, and improving medical outcomes.
The future of healthcare is at our fingertips. We just need to dare to reimagine, innovate, and reach out to grasp it. As designers, innovators, and thought-leaders in medtech, the time is now to embrace this possible future and make it a reality.
Photo: Teera Konakan, Getty Images