Design Considerations for Next-Gen Medical Wearables

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By Roger Bohannan

Wearables are nothing new, but they are growing more in demand within the medical field – and it has generated a booming market. In fact, Juniper Research says that wearables such as health trackers and remote patient monitoring devices will become “must haves” by 2023.

But with emerging technology, there is always some sort of downside – like the potential for a device to malfunction. If a health tracker like Fitbit or an Apple Watch malfunctions, it’s an inconvenience. But it’s a big issue if a monitoring device for a cardiovascular system malfunctions since it can put someone’s life at stake. This is why the design considerations for medical wearables are crucial and must withstand whatever environment they are exposed to along with every aggressive interaction they may encounter.

Here are some important considerations design engineers should keep in mind when it comes to designing medical wearables.

Putting the User First

Doctors and nurses put a lot of trust in the devices they use to treat their patients. The parts included in a wearable – like a switch – act as the bridge between the medical professional and the device. If something goes wrong with the device, they’ll quickly look for its replacement. User experience is becoming more important than ever, and consumers need to have a delightful and positive experience with any device they are using. If a hearing aid isn’t helping a patient hear sounds correctly and it stops functioning when exposed to elements like rain, the doctor or user may look to a different manufacturer. This is why designers must create products with the user’s needs front and center, along with making them safe and reliable. 

Selecting the Right Switch Size 

Medical wearables may be connected to sophisticated tech, but they still are powered on or off by a simple switch. When it comes to these devices, miniaturization within design is needed more than ever. For example, today’s portable medical devices are adding more and more functionality into the same or smaller spaces. These demands sometimes just don’t allow for an off the shelf selection of an available switch. This is increasingly becoming a design engineer’s most complex challenge. Due to size constraints, we are frequently being tasked with providing switches that perform multiple functions. It’s challenging to find the right balance between fitting all the antennas, transmitters and additional circuitry required for communications with the operational, detection and data collection components needed in these devices. That is why designers must consider the proper switch sizes to accommodate for all these parts so that these devices work as intended, all the time. The latest developments are surrounding power preservation, these are some of the most coveted developments of the last year.

Standing the Test of Time

When it comes to performance, consistency, long-life and the quality of the switches used in medical devices are critical to supporting a high-level of confidence. Medical wearables must work all the time, no exceptions. Components that can handle a serious impact or an operator pressing too hard on a button, for example, help the medical device to work reliably – even in challenging situations. There is no room for error, as someone’s health is on the line.

A product is only as good as the sum of its parts, which is especially crucial when it comes to designing for safety and accuracy in emerging medical technology, like wearables. By taking these factors into account, design engineers can be sure they are choosing the best components and switches for the next generation of medical devices. 

Roger Bohannan is Global Segment Leader, Medical at C&K.

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