Let’s take a look at you then: non-invasive diagnostics
Tony Bedford writes on the shocking incident at Bolton Wanderers’ recent FA Cup match at Tottenham Hotspur, White Hart Lane, during which the seemingly-healthy 23-year old footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed from cardiac arrest, created headline news around the world and focused attention on the testing protocols used to screen for possible cardiac abnormalities.
Nine years earlier, Cameroon international footballer Marc-Vivien Foe tragically collapsed and died during a match having suffered a heart attack caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Most such abnormalities can be diagnosed thorough the use of an electrocardiogram (ECG) or an echocardiogram; sadly, in the case of Foe such a test had not been conducted, whilst in the case of Muamba, the testing appears to have been insufficient to identify the problem, Muamba having been subjected to at least four previous tests at various points in his career.
These types of tests are referred to as non-invasive diagnostics as, put simply, they include no invasive element. There is a growing trend for innovation in this area and there have been recent developments of respiratory investigation devices in Europe and the US – both taking the non-invasive theme a step further by utilising non-contact technology.
One such system employs three-dimensional imaging to assess a patient whilst they are breathing normally and another uses microwave Doppler radar. Crucially, both require no physical interaction with the patient, who benefits from not having to be connected to uncomfortable body-worn attachments or having to blow into disposable tubes, making the experience considerably more relaxed and patient-friendly. The healthcare setting also benefits from reduced disposable costs and minimal sterilisation and the ability to improve workflow by screening multiple patients at higher throughput.
Innovation in non-invasive diagnostics isn’t confined to cardiac and respiratory tests though. Given the financial advantages to healthcare providers and their desire to move towards greater numbers of outpatients, it is no surprise to find start-up and developing companies researching the possibilities of obtaining information non-invasively and non-contact via the eyes, skin tones, pulse and respiratory rates and looking at conditions as diverse as liver and vascular disease. As yet, no technology has successfully reached the market (or appears to be close to doing so) for non-invasive blood glucose monitoring, which for so long and for so many growing numbers of diabetics has required a lancing device to draw small amounts of blood on a regular basis.
From a user standpoint, non-invasive diagnostics stand to offer many benefits, from much improved patient comfort achieved by not having to be literally examined from the inside out (hence pain-free solutions), and to shortened waiting times in the care setting making routine assessments, well, much more routine in nature. Much of the medical device design work we conduct at Kinneir Dufort is driven by the desire to be user-centric and frequently the need to present the patient with a device that is neither frightening nor medical-looking is found at or near the top of any must-have requirements specification, typically closely followed by ease-of use for the healthcare professional; take away the invasive element and add a simple , intuitive interface in its place and hey, I think I’m feeling better already doctor…
As designers, we understand and regularly employ the activities needed to embody diagnostics products appropriately by placing the stakeholders at the heart of the design process. Perhaps in fact we already know about this diverse set of people – patients, carers and healthcare professionals and hospital procurement staff to name but a few.
As such, perhaps this is an opportunity for technology push and market pull to finally unite as one. We know that the products must be non-invasive, intuitive and with clear, unambiguous output; we also know that the scientists and engineers around the world have developed and are developing a myriad of ways to detect, image, analyse, observe…the list is endless. By understanding the use of technology in non-medical applications, we can begin to be innovative in our chosen field.
So what is the longer term future for non-invasive diagnostics products? Could a trip to your GP in the future require you to enter via an airport-style body scanner so that your GP has the requisite information to hand before you have even sat down in the consulting room? The flow of innovative products in this space is still something of trickle. Certainly the future appears to hold much more exciting innovation.
For now, the value of non-invasive diagnostic products can clearly be seen. Just ask Andy Scott, who played over 400 games as a professional footballer, before being diagnosed as having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in time to retire from the game and hang up his boots through his own choice.
Tony Bedford, Business Development Manager at Kinneir Dufort, has a wealth of experience of medical product development and innovation after 15 years in the ‘Cambridge Cluster’. He joins us from Cambridge Consultants, where he specialised in market strategy and consumer research for medical and pharma companies across Europe and the US and a recent focus on drug delivery