Medical device design, within the next five years, is going to focus on adhesive patches, smart stickers, electronic tattoos, and other devices that are applied directly to the body. This past year has seen a number of advances in flexible electronics that conform to the curves of the human body and stretch and move with it. Media reports of advances in the field seem to be increasing.
As it relates to the development of medical devices, the advent of flexible electronics is significant, and will require new thinking in a number of areas. For example, adhesive systems will need to advance. Many people are allergic, even if only mildly, to the adhesives that are used in wound care and to affix devices to the body. Even for those who are not allergic, anything that is attached to the skin for a prolonged period will irritate if it is not sufficiently breathable. A material or system that is sufficiently breathable but that could still be worn while bathing would be especially advantageous for flexible electronic patch applications.
When a sophisticated medical device is in the form of a bandage-like patch or tiny sticker, new thinking will be required regarding the user interface issues of control and feedback. There will also be challenges in powering these devices and in heat dissipation. Some devices might require new materials for insulation purposes.
I’m sure many other considerations will arise that will keep medical device designers thinking hard to find novel solutions. We are going to see more and more medical devices that are closer to being 2-dimensional in form rather than 3-dimensional. That is going to require a transformation in design thinking – something that we should all be excited about, because one of the things that drives us as designers is a brand new challenge! This is going to be fun!