Wireless Medical Devices Need Fewer Sensors Doing More Things

May 7, 2013 – 9:38 am

Mobile phones are the dominant space where consumers get their understanding of sensing technologies, and that will inform the development of emerging medical sensing systems, Bill Sermon told MEDTEC UK conference attendees last week. Speaking on wireless medical devices at the conference in London on 1 May, Sermon stressed the role that user expectations will play in this rapidly evolving field. A partner at business consultancy Viadynamics (London), Sermon spent several years immersed in design at Nokia, so his observations came from the intersection of consumer and medical techn0logy, an especially fertile field of innovation.

Too many medical sensors still have singular functions, said Sermon, and that creates a disconnect with consumers who are used to the multisensing functionality of smartphones. “We need fewer sensors that can be leveraged to sense more things,” he noted. Innovation will come, but it may not be from the medical space. “All of the mobile networks have health divisions . . . they all recognise this as a business opportunity,” stressed Sermon.

There are more mobile phones than people in the United Kingdom, and the population pool for wellness and health services via smartphone is enormous. So, why just 3 Million Lives? he asked, referencing the UK programme that wants to improve the quality of life for 3 million people with long-term care conditions via telehealth technology. “There are 30 million—ultimately 60 million—people who will enroll for nonmedical wellness and related services and, eventually medical services when they need them.”

UBM Canon’s Wireless Connectivity in Medical Devices conference will take place in Munich on 21 and 22 May

But system developers need to keep users in mind as they develop next-generation medical sensors and wireless devices. On the development horizon, the vertical line—technology—is well understood. But it is the horizontal line—user behaviour—that is neglected. Device developers ignore this at their peril, as the emergence of big data drives a seismic societal shift.

“If I’m being watched 24/7, I want to be in control of that data,” said Sermon. “Users will determine the personal value of that data. It’s mine, it’s about me and I will decide who can have it. I will want to see a clear benefit.”

Moreover, developers of wireless devices will need to take the users’ emotional attachment to these instruments into account, and not simply fixate on the sterile world of data points, Sermon added.

“Clever understanding of user behaviour is critical,” said Sermon, adding that new devices and fewer barriers, as de facto and universally applied standards come to the fore, will challenge existing applications.

Are you ready for this brave new world? A forthcoming conference in Munich offers a deeper dive into wireless medical device technology and the associated regulatory, technical and design challenges it raises in the medtech space. To find out more about the Wireless Connectivity in Medical Devices conference on 21 and 22 May, go to www.medicaldevices-wireless.com.

Norbert Sparrow

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