6 challenges you need to overcome to create a wearable medical device

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Before you start a medical wearable device project, consider the following challenges and suggestions on how to address them.

Diana Eitzman and Kris Godbey, 3M

3M adhesives wearable medical device

How well and how long an adhesive will stick on an elderly person’s skin versus a 2-month-old baby is one of the critical factors to the design process and selecting the proper adhesive. [Image courtesy of 3M]

Skin is unlike any other substrate. It sweats, grows hair, secretes oil, harbors bacteria, constantly sheds old cells, regenerates new ones and changes with health, environment and age – characteristics that are far from universal.

Understanding these unique skin factors and the design challenges they present prior to delving into a stick-to-skin device project will help steer the product development process down a clearer path, the benefits of which will be felt by manufacturers, engineers and end users alike. Not only will implementation of this knowledge lower the likelihood of irritating or damaging skin – it will also work towards a more cost-effective and time-efficient process. Not addressing these issues from the get-go can elongate a project’s timeline or cause the budget to prematurely run dry.

The good news is that these negative outcomes are preventable.

1. Understanding the science of skin

We recognize that an engineer’s first consideration may not be how well and how long an adhesive will stick on an elderly person’s skin versus a two-month-old baby, but it’s critical to understand the numerous skin variables of the end user. Differences in skin elasticity, moisture, oil secretion, and other characteristics can all impact what type of adhesive will perform the best for a device design. Healthy, young skin is less vulnerable, but the reality is that not all skin can handle the same level of sticking power.

Beyond the human factors listed above, there are other factors such as culture, diet, environment, age, and overall health of the end user to consider. The location of the device on the body also plays into this. The skin on your chest is different than the skin on your foot, so the adhesive’s needs and properties will have to reflect those differences.

2. Communicating effectively with the customer

As obvious as it might sound, it’s incredibly important for the design team and their customer to be on the same page, from the beginning, on adhesive expectations. We’ve heard about too many projects that stumble out of the gate because the perceived definition of, say, durability meant something different to the engineer than it did for the customer. Miscommunications, such as these, oftentimes are linked back to the two parties speaking different languages. Engineering jargon must be translated to an accessible language comprehended by everyone.

We recommend explaining requirements as clearly as possible and keep open lines of communication. Of course clearly defined specifications can also help overcome this obstacle, and reduce the product development cycle.

Get the full story on our sister WTWH Media site Design World.

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