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Design Is Changing How We Stay Healthy

Our quest for wellness and healing has produced some of the best design thinking in the last few years. Here are some of the most interesting projects that take our health to heart.

Reebok Heads Off Injury

Photo: Dan Forbes

Reebok Heads Off Injury

Checklight

Reebok

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When representatives from Reebok and the electronics design firm MC10, both based near Boston, began looking for a youth sports team to test out their concussion-detecting monitor, they started in their own backyard. The Checklight–a black skullcap embedded with sensors that are optimized to detect dangerous ­impacts–represented thousands of hours of research and collaboration, and neither partner knew how it would be received, or even how well it would work. They wanted to start small.

In 2012, they approached Brian Costello, coach of the Wayland–Weston Warriors, a youth football team based in the Massachusetts suburb where MC10’s director of sports, Isaiah Kacyvenski, lives. Costello was skeptical. “There’s no technology that’s going to prevent anyone out there from getting hit in the head,” he says. But he was concerned enough about concussions that he thought the device was worth trying.

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Medicine Is Easier To Swallow

Photo: by Eric Helgas

Medicine Is Easier To Swallow

PillPack

T.J. Parker

For anyone on multiple medications, remembering what to take when can be a headache. Online pharmacy PillPack, launched this past February, is making the process easier by shipping drugs in individually sealed single-dose packets. All of the pills you need at any particular time are grouped in one pack. “People are surprised by how simple the service is,” says cofounder T.J. Parker, a second-generation pharm­acist. “When it comes to drugs, [patients] are used to dealing with complexity.”

Photo Sharing Helps Doctors Make Better Decisions, Stat

Photo Sharing Helps Doctors Make Better Decisions, Stat

Figure 1

Richard Penner

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Doctors have long used the web to share images of cases, but those conversations weren’t being preserved. So Toronto ICU physician Joshua Landy cofounded Figure 1, a free photo-sharing app for medical professionals, to create an anonymous library where users can learn from rare and interesting cases and seek other MDs’ opinions. The app has attracted more than 120,000 users since its launch in May 2013. “We need to be able to share ideas, concepts, problems, and solutions instantaneously,” Landy says.

Kids Walk Straight. Parents Breathe Easy.

Illustration: Ollanski

Kids Walk Straight. Parents Breathe Easy.

Miraclefeet Brace

Jeffrey Yang and Ian Connolly

Clubfoot is a leading cause of physical disability world­wide. But the braces used to treat the condition– which causes feet to turn inward–can be expensive and hard to use. “We tried to make it less medical and more playful, like a child’s toy,” says Miraclefeet co­designer Jeffrey Yang. He and Ian Connolly led a team of Stanford grad students to develop the brace, which is made out of lightweight plastic and costs less than $20. It’s now being tested in Brazil, India, Nicaragua, and South Africa. Unlike most other devices, it also allows kids to walk while wearing it.

High-Tech Devices Keep Tabs On Health

Illustration: Sebastian Andaur

High-Tech Devices Keep Tabs On Health

These Monitors help take care of our babies, our grandparents, and ourselves.

HealthPatch

Vital Connect
Doctors and caregivers can use it to track patients’ vital signs over the Internet.

How it works: The sticky strip–which went on sale in April–is outfitted with a small sensor. In addition to vitals, the unobtrusive device can detect falls, track calories, and even sense a patient’s posture.

How it was designed: “We wanted it to be as much like a Band-Aid as possible,” says Nersi Nazari, CEO of Vital Connect. “You can shower, sleep, and exercise with it–and, most important, forget about it.”

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Why It Matters: “The cost of health care is unsustainable,” says Nazari. “By allowing patients to go home just half a day earlier, the HealthPatch can save hospitals millions.”

Lifeline GoSafe

Philips
This alert necklace for active seniors helps monitor people who are prone to falling.

How it works: When the GoSafe detects a fall, a two-way voice channel opens on the necklace. If there’s no response, it triggers an audio alert and sends GPS data to emergency personnel. The device should be on sale by the end of the year.

How it was designed: “It’s incredibly small,” says Carlos Muchiutti, senior director of global product management at Philips
Lifeline. “We didn’t want people feeling awkward wearing one.”

Why It Matters: “Over 13 million seniors fall every year,” says Muchiutti. “But many of those falls happen outside of the home, so existing medical-alert systems don’t work.”

Scout

Scanadu
Makes checking your health as easy as checking your email.

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How it works: Press the Yves Béhar–designed device (which is awaiting FDA approval) against your forehead, and it can read your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and other vitals, sending the info to your phone via a connected app.

How it was designed: “It wasn’t enough for us that it looked great,” says Scanadu cofounder Sam de Brouwer. “We designed it to create the same feeling of empathy as putting your hand on someone’s fore­head when they’re sick.”

Why It Matters: “Most people are shut off from data about their own bodies,” says de Brouwer. “That leads to bad decisions about health and creates unnecessary anxiety.”

Sproutling

A Fitbit-ish device that lets parents follow an infant’s health and sleep patterns.

How it works: PA sensor wraps around a baby’s ankle, tracking vitals, environment, and sleep patterns and linking with a phone app. Using this data, Sproutling can predict when a child might wake and alert parents in case of an emergency.

How it was designed: “When you’re designing a wearable for an infant, it has to be as organic and comfortable as possible,” says Sproutling CEO Chris Bruce.

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Why It Matters: “Baby monitors are terrible. You have to watch them constantly, which creates stress in parents,” says Bruce. “We want to give them better insight into what is actually happening with their babies.”

A Small Heart Monitor Listens Big

From tragedy to innovation
Marie Guion-Johnson turned a devastating loss into a potentially lifesaving device.Photo: Maciek Jasik

A Small Heart Monitor Listens Big

CADence

Aum Cardio and MNML

In 2002, Marie Guion-Johnson’s 41-year-old husband, Rob, died after going into cardiac arrest while swimming. That experience led Guion-Johnson to start the company Aum Cardiovascular and invent the CADence, a small device that a doctor holds over a patient’s chest to detect blockages often missed by other tests (it sends data to a computer via Bluetooth; no treadmill or other medical equipment is needed). Still in clinical trials, it could hit the U.S. market in 2016.

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Now Everyone Can Know What’s In Their DNA

Illustration: Max-o-matic

Now Everyone Can Know What’s In Their DNA

The revolutionary lab Counsyl is making genetic testing affordable, fast, and friendly.

The robots handle the saliva with care. They group scores of tiny, rubber-capped test tubes into orderly racks and position them under plunging needles. An articulated arm moves some of them from one automated track to another, and all of them eventually get loaded into a small, box-shaped device whose sole job is to vigorously shake things. This separates patients’ DNA from their spit. Everything that this huddle of roughly 200 robotic components is doing is about extracting valuable genetic signals from raw physiological noise.

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A Prosthetic Hand Lets Users Feel Again

Photo: Maxime Guyon

A Prosthetic Hand Lets Users Feel Again

Lifehand 2

Silvestro Micera, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

For amputees who have lost a hand, mundane tasks such as squeezing a tube of toothpaste can be tricky. With no sense of touch, they can only gauge pressure by sight. But a next-gen prosthesis being developed in Switzerland may soon change that. The sensory-­enhanced bionic hand–which had its first clinical trial in 2012 and could be available in 5 to 10 years–is outfitted with sensors that measure information about what it grasps, then turns that into electrical signals. The prosthesis is surgically wired to nerves in the patient’s arm, which interpret those impulses as a rudimen­tary touch sensation. One test subject described being able to sense the shape and consistency of objects he was grasping, along with how tightly he was holding them. “Our system offers them an enormous jump in life quality,” says Dr. Stanisa Raspopovic, who worked on the project. “It will decrease the idea of amputees being disabled.”

Doctor Visits Are Less Painful

Doctor Visits Are Less Painful

One Medical Group

Dr. Thomas Lee

One Medical is using technology to ­redesign primary care. Patients can book a same-day appointment, visit a doctor at one of 30 locations nationwide (with more planned soon), and receive consultations and prescription refills via mobile app. An annual membership fee of up to $199 covers the cost of service (doctor visits are ­extra). “When you’re sick is the last time you want to be treated rudely,” says Dr. Thomas Lee, who founded the company in 2007. “We wanted to design a thoughtful, people-centered experience that’s also convenient and affordable.” Here’s how it works.

Illustrations: Aaron Lloyd Barr

Old Way

  1. A patient wakes up feeling ill and calls her doctor, but can’t get an appointment until later in the week.
  2. In the waiting room, she is handed a stack of complicated forms to fill out before the doctor will see her.
  3. She spends an hour flipping through People magazines before an assistant calls her name–and has her wait even longer in an examination room.
  4. The physician hurries through a quick exam before moving on to another waiting patient.
  5. The patient is told to make a ­follow-up ­appointment–for which she will repeat the process.
Illustrations: Aaron Lloyd Barr

New Way

  1. A patient wakes up feeling ill and uses the One Medical mobile app to book an appointment for later that afternoon.
  2. Before leaving the house, she uses the company’s website to check in. Her personal information is already on file.
  3. According to the company, 95% of their appointments begin on time.
  4. The physician conducts an in-depth assessment at a desk in a comfortable office, then does an exam.
  5. For a follow-up, the patient can email with the ­doctor directly or request a video chat.
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