Leaning Over the Fence to Learn: A Conversation About Consumer Health and Medical Devices


Leaning Over the Fence to Learn - Part 1

A Conversation About Consumer Health and Medical Devices

November 21, 2015
by Mike DunkleyKevin Young

The barrier between consumer health and medical device companies grows thinner every business day. The question is: Can these two different sectors learn from one another and, in the process, avoid a messy and difficult merger? At Continuum, we have considerable experience in both consumer health and medical device design So we asked Kevin Young, our SVP of Product Experience (left), to speak with Mike Dunkley, SVP of Advanced Systems (right), about the challenges and opportunities here. Enjoy the conversation below, the first of a two-part series.

dunkley mikeMike Dunkley: As you know, medical device companies are eyeing the increasing trend towards home-use of medical devices, whether these are physician prescribed or purchased over the counter. Do you have any advice here? What can these companies learn from the consumer sector in this regard?

young kevinKevin Young: Great question. As medical device companies move to create in-home products, one of the main lessons they can learn from the consumer sector is how to ensure initial and continued correct use over time. For most medical devices, a trained healthcare professional is using the instrument, often in a clinical setting. Conversely, at-home health and medical products are often unsupervised, and there is little or no training prior to use. In addition, the user typically does not have a background in the medical profession. For these reasons, the device must be extremely intuitive and supported by clear, concise instructions.

The consumer sector has successfully addressed this through user-centered design. By focusing on the needs of consumers, the entire product system can be designed to be approachable and intuitive. This is expressed in everything from the onscreen UI to creating approachable written material, often supported by online tutorials and training.

Creating an Internet of Things (IoT) device can also encourage proper and continued use over time. Traditional products offer little or no feedback loop once a product is in the home—but a connected device enables a company to continue the conversation with consumers, track usage, and potentially offer advice for improving use.

The key is to embed connectivity in a way that is meaningful to the user. An example of this is the iluminage Skin Smoothing Laser—a handheld, FDA-approved laser that is proven to reduce facial lines and wrinkles. While it might not sound like a product that should connect to the web, IoT access is an essential feature to the device. There was initial concern that women (its target users) wouldn’t know how to use this new-to-the-world device properly, increasing the likelihood that women would abandon the product before it yielded the desired results. By making it an IoT product, iluminage enabled women to connect the device to their computer and create an online profile. With that, they could receive online videos and instructions for use, track their progress over time, and speak with a beauty advisor.

MD: How about the purchasing decision itself? Many medical device companies target reimbursement rather than consumer dollars: How does one design to resonate with consumers when they are spending their own money? What factors must one consider to provide a compelling consumer value proposition?

KY: Well, as medical companies expand their portfolio to distribute over-the-counter consumer health and wellness products, it’s important for them to shift their marketing mindset to target a price-conscious consumer. Today’s consumers are extremely savvy and have many products from which to choose. These consumers also have a voice. If they purchase a product that they’re not happy with, they have online rating opportunities and social media outlets to share their disapproval. Because of this, many consumer product companies make significant efforts to understand the needs and desires of their intended consumers. This helps strengthen their brand and ensure that all of their products and customer-facing touchpoints communicate a message that resonates with their audience. Medical companies can learn from this and seek opportunities to direct their consumer health products and the supporting sales and marketing materials to emotionally connect with consumers.

Take, for example, Omron and Mira. Omron is a company that mainly creates medical and technology products. When they decided to create Mira, a subsidiary company focusing on fitness tracking for women, they understood they would need to connect with their end users in a new way. Taking a page from consumer products companies, the company found opportunities to speak with women in a differentiated and emotionally compelling manner. Rather than making women feel guilty for not exercising more often, their marketing and communication material focused on encouraging advice for leading a healthy lifestyle. Their beautiful wearable resembles jewelry, and seamlessly fits into the lives of real women. In this way, the company strategically positioned their brand to connect emotionally with their intended audience.

MD: It’s well documented that there are adherence challenges with consumer health and wellness products. People discontinue use in part because these products are optional and lives don’t depend on continued use. As medical device companies move into the consumer health space, what can they learn from consumer companies in helping maintain continued use of their products over time?

KY: It’s true that consumer health products can face adherence challenges. Studies have shown that 33% of users discontinue use of their fitness trackers after six months. These products are not a critical part of people’s lives and it’s therefore easy for consumers to opt out. Consumer product companies have learned that it’s necessary to address this challenge. If they do not, they risk impacting brand loyalty and adoption of future product releases.

It can, of course, be challenging to modify existing behavior and create a habit. Smart consumer product companies leverage people’s natural impulses to address adherence and drive long-term habit formation: (1) designing for display and (2) results-based gamification.

The designers of the Withings Aura Sleep System understood a fundamental trigger of habit formation: visual cues. Withings created a product that is not only enjoyable and easy to use—it’s also something people are happy to have on display in their homes. Making the Aura a piece of home décor encourages continued use because its visible presence provides a constant reminder to use the product.

In addition to being a fixture on display in one’s home, the Withings Sleep Monitor is a connected device. Consumers can sync it with an online profile to track usage and sleep patterns. The monitor’s ability to show its user ongoing and evolving data in this way creates the opportunity for results-based gamification. Users are motivated to reach the next milestone and feel an intrinsic reward from getting a good night’s sleep.

There are many techniques that consumer companies use to ensure product adherence, but designing for display and results-based gamification are two of the strongest approaches that medical companies can leverage.

filed in: healthcare

About the Author

  • Dunkley_Mike
    Mike Dunkley
    Head of Healthcare

    Mike leads EPAM Continuum’s medical devices business and is inspired by the opportunity to deliver better healthcare experiences. He’s passionate about understanding client needs and translating them into successful collaborations.

    Mike joined EPAM Continuum in May of 2012. He has worked in commercial, project management, and technical roles on numerous multi-disciplinary projects within the medical, consumer, and energy sectors. His experience spans initial project orientation through to product commercialization.

    Previously, Mike held various upper-management roles at Cambridge Consultants and worked as VP of Engineering at Cambridge-based start-up Pronutria. He earned a BA and Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Cambridge, U.K.

  • Kevin Young
    Kevin Young
    Head of Product Experience

    Kevin is responsible for maintaining the health of and planning for the growth of EPAM Continuum’s Product Experience business. He also leads programs and project teams directly, working with clients to solve their most complex challenges.

    Kevin is deeply invested in connected consumer health. His work brings together the necessity of strong healthcare products, effectiveness of good design, and the coming ubiquity of the Internet of Things.

    Kevin graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University with a BID in industrial design. His product design successes have resulted in 14 design excellence awards and 18 U.S. patents.