The Future of Medical Technology

time to wake up and smell the chocolate?

I was at the Rock Stars of Innovation Summit in early April, held here in San Diego at the Hard Rock Hotel. It was another event in the local technology vortex, where the worlds of consumer electronics and wireless devices and medical technology are becoming more and more intertwined. Whether you call it Digital Health, or the Future of Medicine, or simply an extension of technology into new areas, some interesting things are happening here. And every time I go to one of these events,  something happens that makes me think about things in a different way.

This time, I started thinking about the different ways that companies develop technology.  Consumer electronics companies like Apple and Samsung and Google invest vasts sums of money on the user experience. They use data mining and behaviour modeling and predictive analytics. They fund design research and user interface studies and hold focus groups. But instead of getting caught up on the beep and the pop and the click, they focus on the oohh and the ahhhh.  They use technology to enhance the user experience.

Med tech companies, on the other hand, use technology in a completely different way. They look at diagnostics and treatment from a medical enterprise perpective. They do research on drugs and conduct clinical trials and they focus on efficacy and safety and enterprise costs. All of that is fine and dandy, but what about the oohh and the ahhhh?

The thought occured to me, What would the world be like if medical technology was developed from the perspective of the user experience of the patient?

Or to put it more simply, If Lady Gaga was a diabetic, What would her insulin pump look like?

I am not a diabetic myself, but every time I go to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled it comes in an ugly brown pill bottle with an ugly white top, in a chintzy white paper bag with a piece of roll form computer paper stapled to it. Of course, even with insurance I’ve paid some ungodly amount of money for it. But when I get home I throw it in a cabinet and forget about it. And of course my doctor then lectures at me because I didn’t take my medicine.

Then I hear someone in med tech say, “Oh, we’re working on technology to monitor patient compliance.” They talk about a sensor and a chip and a trasmitter and a receiver and some device in a physicians office that can record user data. I have to yawn when I hear this stuff. That’s innovation?

Why can’t my pills be packaged like a box of chocolate? A box that says, You’re special. A box that opens with the feel of silk, and gives off a delightful aroma every time I open it. Each pill individually wrapped in a foil wrapper, color coded (in my favorite colors) to the day of the week, with a wireless sensor embedded in the foil, so that when I open the wrapper it not only sends a note to my doctor, The patient has taken their daily medicine, it also sends a viral video clip to my smart phone so that I end up laughing for 10 minutes. And, if I don’t open that foil wrapper, another sensor is triggered and the box emits the aroma of fresh baked oatmeal cookies, and my stomach tells me, It’s time for my daily medicine.

Patient compliance based on user experience. Pavlov did the basic research a long time ago.

Why can’t I get a liquid medication in a bottle made of frosted glass, cool to the touch, with a stopper that makes a soft thunk when you open it, like when you open a bottle of aged single malt scotch? Or a spray medication in a perfume bottle? How come I can drag and drop a video clip and send it to millions of people with the click of a mouse, but when I go to the doctor’s office I have to fill out a 6 page form on a clip board using a ball point pen?

Why doesn’t the med tech industry develop products based on the user experience of the patient?

When are they going to wake up and smell the chocolate?