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Taking Healthcare Out of the Hospital: How Device Design Can Empower Users

From point-of-care diagnostics to auto-injectors, medical devices are increasingly enabling more procedures and healthcare activities to be conducted outside of the clinic. What is paramount to the success of these devices is making them simple and intuitive to use, so that they can be operated by non-clinically trained individuals. To achieve this, device manufacturers are utilising a range of tools and approaches, from digital support solutions to packaging innovations and more.

The Medical Devices Democratising Healthcare

Creating medical technologies to conduct healthcare outside of clinical settings often involves a certain degree of up-skilling nonspecialist users. The idea is that by putting the right technology and support in the hands of more healthcare professionals (HCPs) and providers, patient access to care can be increased, a phenomenon is known as the democratisation of healthcare.

There are many examples of devices being used to help democratise healthcare.

Wearable devices are empowering users to track and better understand their health, providing a wealth of digital biomarkers that can be used to better inform health decisions. Meanwhile, point-of-care diagnostics are providing lab-comparable results in minutes, enabling faster diagnosis and greater access for patients.

Healthcare at Home – The Challenge of Training Patients

In addition to medical devices designed for use by clinicians and healthcare professionals, there are also occasions when patients are required to self-train and administer therapy which would otherwise be carried out by an HCP in a clinical setting.

Take for example home auto-injection systems for a condition like rheumatoid arthritis. Traditionally, a patient would be instructed in the first use of an auto-injector by an HCP during a face-to-face meeting, who would be able to support the patient with challenges such as injection anxiety and how to rotate the injection site. Increasingly, patients are now expected to self-train in the use of auto-injectors, sometimes having to rely solely on instructions for use (IFUs) to learn how to use their devices.

In reality, many people either don’t read instructions fully or don’t follow the use steps correctly. This has been a significant driving factor in the simplification of use steps in recent years, with many modern auto-injectors now following a simple two-step process of ‘remove cap’ and ‘hold against skin’. Whilst this has reduced the opportunity for user error, it has also come at the expense of device complexity.

Even something as simple as an asthma inhaler poses significant challenges in terms of self-training and adherence for patients, as delivery technique is critical. With pressurised metred dose inhalers (pMDIs), users often struggle with coordinating the button press with inhalation, the result being that most of the drug is deposited on the back of the throat, which can lead to further complications. Inhaler spacers, which are plastic tubes that are attached to the mouthpiece, go some way to addressing the coordination challenge, but they are bulky and require cleaning. This has driven innovations in inhaler design such as breath actuation, where the plume of drug is not released until the user starts inhaling. The challenge here again is that this comes at the price of increased device complexity.