If there's one thing we here at the 'Mine can get behind, it's innovation in diabetes technology. After all, Amy did launch the DiabetesMine Design Challenge four years ago after her popular Open Letter to Steve Jobs post was published. So that's why we were excited to see that this month's DSMA Blog Carnival challenge is all about diabetes technology, especially after spending weeks looking at all the wonderful submissions to this year's contest. We have a lot to say about diabetes technology (though, really, when do we not have a lot to say about anything related to diabetes?). Here are Allison and Amy's respective answers to this month's DSMA question:
"What improvements or adjustments would you make to current technology?"
When it comes to improvements to current diabetes technology, I have to admit, I think about it mostly as a digital native. A few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation on the "patient's perspective" on health 2.0, and as an example, I held up my insulin pump for the entire room (filled with non-D folks) and I said, "What does this look like?" One guy in the front suggested, "A pager?"
"Right," I replied. "And when was the last time you saw a pager? 1993?"
We're in the 21st century! Land of iPhones, laptops, flat-screen TVs, BlueRay players, and wireless Internet at 35,000 feet, and innercontectivity like never before. So why is it that the only thing I wear everyday looks like a piece of technology that about 1% of society actually uses? And do you know who uses them? Doctors!
When I look at modern diabetes technology, my main beef with it is that it doesn't look modern. It looks old. It doesn't fit in with the other products that I use. It doesn't fit in with the aesthetics of my life, and that makes it uncomfortable to use. It's clunky and outdated, and it makes it unappealing. Logically I know that an insulin pump is my best chance for living a healthy life. But it also seems logical that medical device companies would want it to be as appealing yet functional (like an iPhone, for example) as they can to help folks be more inclined to use it to its full advantage. We are in an age of the sleek, of the touchscreen, of the wireless transmission. If medical device makers don't keep up with consumer demands, they might find it difficult to survive in the era of "digital natives" like me!
Clearly, improving on diabetes technology is a personal passion for me. Even with the DiabetesMine Design Challenge gaining national attention, it never ceases to amaze me how engineering- and clinically-driven the design of many our health devices remain.
On the Expo show floor of this year's ADA Conference, I spent a little time looking around with Brennan Cassidy of the sports group Insulindepence. As two adults with Type 1, we had some very practical questions for some of the device-makers, who seemed surprised that we wanted to know things like: "What do you do when the 10-test cartridge runs out, and you don't happen to have a spare drum with you?" or "Why isn't there a container included to hold the used test strips?"
After a few minutes, Brennan surveyed the exhibit hall, and then looked at me and said: "You know what's wrong with all of this stuff? It wasn't designed by diabetics!"
It is a personal passion of mine to get patients — the people who live with this technology day in and day out — more integrally involved the conceptualization and design of this stuff. To that end, we'll be hosting a Diabetes Innovation Summit event on Stanford campus in the fall, bringing together a select group of patient advocates, entrepreneurs, design experts, and pharma industry leaders from the marketing, R&D, legal and regulatory sectors to explore new ways to achieve truly "patient-centered" solutions.
Here are the tenets of what I personally believe to be necessary to improve diabetes technology as it stands today:
Aesthetics - most of this stuff has a long way to go to measure up to Apple products, for example. I was amazed at how angular and plain some of the new pump designs were that were shown at ADA this year.
Life Functionality - any medical device designer should ask him or herself: would I want to wear this thing stuck to my belly 24 hours a day? Does it pinch when I lean over? Beep me awake all night with harsh alarm tones? Or fit into a pocket or belt clip holder without making me look like an idiot? Etc.
Interoperability - for God's sake, the data is of no use unless it can be shared. Why do you think Google, Facebook, Twitter and other sharing-based technologies have been so wildly successful? And people's lives don't depend on most of the stuff shared there. At the recent Roche Social Media Summit, we practically begged JDRF CEO Jeffrey Brewer to push the diabetes industry on interoperability standards (well I did, anyway). This is what will make new closed-loop and mobile apps truly viable options for patient use.
In case you need some inspiration on Point #3, Industry Folk, allow me to revisit the Diabetic Data Cloud entry from the 2009 DiabetesMine Design Challenge:
Viva la innovation!