A young Hungarian designer re-designed the traditional ECG Holter into an easily applicable and smart ECG wearable. It’s just one example how design will appear in healthcare in the future; how elements of design thinking and (user interface) UX will become an organic part of the development of medical devices.

An example of brilliance: redesigning the traditional ECG Holter

A young Hungarian designer, Ádám Miklósi contacted me half a year ago that he redesigned the traditional ECG Holter. As one of the 85 million Europeans suffering from cardiovascular disease, he frequently had to get into contact with the medical device. He actually found the traditional ECG Holter fascinating. Well, in a sense how frequently it is used on patients in hospital environments despite being really not patient-friendly. You could and would not use the traditional ECG Holter at home. It’s too complicated to apply, too „hospital-like” and too costly. Moreover, it does not provide the best possible measurements either.

What would a genuine designer do? Yes, of course, he started to redesign it. He imagined a functional yet fun and patient-friendly ECG Holter. He faced the challenge of using a great technology in minimum size and applying some kind of patches onto various skin types for a longer period of time. The result is a colorful, waterproof and minimally-sized wearable design called the Dab, which is easy to apply on the body and results in accurate measurements.

Photo credit: Kevin Campean

Moreover, as Dab uses dry electrodes instead of complex disposable ones, it significantly reduces waste. Thus the manufacturing price decreases by 90 percent. The Medical Futurist team is really excited about this beautiful design, so we are hopeful that it could soon enter the wearable market. The project was sponsored by the Laszlo Moholy-Nagy Design Grant and the Maform kft.

Design and healthcare
Photo credit: Kevin Campean

The evolution of ECG

Miklósi’s design does not come out of the blue. It perfectly fits the recent trend of redesigning traditional healthcare devices to make them more patient-friendly and ready to use at home. Just look at how much weight the ECG device lost during its evolution! The invention of the ECG is usually associated with Dutch physician, Willem Einthoven, who first coined the term „electrocardiogram” and built a new kind of string galvanometer with very high sensitivity. His device weighed 600 pounds. Later, Frank Sanborn’s company produced the first portable version of the electrocardiogram in 1928. It weighed 50 pounds and was powered by a 6-volt automobile battery.

And now, peek at the Kardia Alivecor ECG devices! They fit into our palms and weigh less than one pound. Gadgets have become smaller, more comfortable and more efficient. And there was even an evolution of the various versions of Alivecor devices! For example, the first version of their FDA-approved, medical-grade ECG recorder only works on the iPhone 5; the next generation was already thinner and more sophisticated. The latest version is only a little bit thicker than your credit card. Amazing!

Kardia Alivecor_Kardia Review

Design for medical devices

The above examples show how medical devices follow the general trend in as much as articles for personal use become more and more miniaturized, digitized and connected. While in the past, the ultimate goal of medical tools was to somehow measure health parameters and vital signs and to somehow record measurements, currently, the question is how to measure more accurately and easier. The evolution of digital health and the appearance of design in producing medical devices confirm these changes.

Beyond the ECG, many more diagnostic devices turn into palm-sized gadgets. The Viatom Checkme Pro, the closest device to the medical tricorder is amazingly multifaceted. It functions as a health tracker, records your ECG, measures your blood oxygen saturation, the number of steps you take a day, serves as a thermometer, a blood pressure tracker, sleep monitor and a reminder while it is portable, very light, hand-held and transfers data wirelessly. And it’s only a bit bigger than your phone. The Clinicloud or the Eko Core both replace the traditional stethoscope and show the way how to record heart, lung and other sounds in a smarter way.

Going for aesthetics and usefulness

Beyond creating patient-friendly, pocket-sized gadgets, the aesthetics of devices becomes more and more important. Especially in the case of health trackers and wearables, which aim to become an organic part of everyday life. It is not enough to provide some measurements, the results should be packaged into a user-friendly gadget with attractive appearance or into a frequently used personal item. Ádám Miklósi also thinks that in most cases, patients stop using a certain gadget because most of the appliances are designed to get the results, instead of being designed for the users.

Luckily, there are already many companies who get things right. Moreover, certain wearables aim to function as a fashion statement. Misfit offers elegant smartwatches, fitness trackers – and even a Swarovski activity crystal, which could not be further away from the traditional notions of gadgets used for health purposes. Moreover, design could also turn stigmatizing medical devices into something „cool”. Julia Marian Cunha created a hearing aid, OH, that is both a fashion accessory – making the wearer confident and stylish at the same time.

The company, MC10 makes microchips that can measure numerous vital signs simultaneously while it basically functions as a digital tattoo due to its flexible material. In the future, there will be plenty of biostamps and digital tattoos offering appealing visuals and accurate medical measurements.

Design in Healthcare

With design against food allergies

Allergy Amulet, a two-piece allergen detection kit in the form of an amulet is fit for testing whether your food contains peanuts. In the future, they also want to detect other food allergy triggers such as tree nuts, dairy, shellfish, and gluten. An EpiPen redesigned into a fun-looking wearable, Aibi, allows children with allergies to monitor their condition and alerts the onset of an allergic reaction to caregivers to ensure a timely response. Moreover, it offers cute animal characters for kids to play with – making sure they will wear Aibi day-and-night.

A lollypop-shaped device, called Ally, is able to show whether your food contains lactose. It is interesting that Imogen Adams, a student in product design engineering at Brunel University – and not someone from the medical community – designed it. I believe the appearance of designers in the arena of healthcare will be more commonplace in the future; with designers putting the needs of patients from another perspective into the equation as medical professionals.

food allergy

The future of design in healthcare

Colors, shapes, scents, sounds, and materials all have an influence on the human senses. Thus, a pleasant environment with agreeable objects can positively affect the healing process, can shorten the time of recovery – and reduce the costs of care. This is certainly not a new discovery.

In 1859, Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing recognized the importance of art in medicine and raised issues that are still highly relevant today. In Notes on Nursing, she wrote „The effect of beautiful objects, the variety of objects and especially brilliance of color is hardly at all appreciated … Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliance of color in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery”.

And although it has been recognized early that aesthetics, colors, light or soothing sounds are part of the healing process, it took a long time until it appeared in practice. But when it did so, it started to emerge with elementary power.

Design in Healthcare
Source: GSI Technologies / Edit Lowres

Smart design in hospitals allows both adults and children to cope better with fear, anxiety, loneliness or boredom. For example, Gamification in the form of apps, special toys or walls painted with bright colors, green spaces to walk around, all serve this purpose. Moreover, scientists from University College of London are experimenting with 3D printing drugs in odd shapes; such as dinosaurs or octopuses in order to make it easier for kids to take pills. Ádám Miklósi mentioned the MRI appliance for children designed by Doug Dietz for GE. The whole machine and the room are painted as a pirate ship, the assistant acts like a pirate and tells a story to the kids under examination, he explained.

The future will bring more and more solutions where designers and healthcare professionals work together. And as patients will be the point-of-care and people will take care of themselves better – we need the successful symbiosis of the two fields more than ever before.

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