This past Monday morning, I had the opportunity to attend the BioOhio Annual Conference at the Global Center for Health Innovation in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. BioOhio is an industry organization focused on workforce & education, advocacy, collaboration and networking.

Let’s begin with the reason I decided to attend this event. As a contract manufacturer of miniaturized electronic products, Valtronic is beginning to see the trend of consumer wearable’s become an opportunity in the field of medical devices. It is a convergence of 3 key trends in the market: enabling technology, flexible printed electronics and functionality (as a new form factor), and home healthcare. These trends are converging allowing for a new creator in the market. The market is predicted to run $80 billion worldwide by 2020 and with a 40% return rate. The success comes from the big players in the market and many of them with a consumer based wrist worn wearable device. Though, the form factor is growing and in the next few years we will see a continuation of development interacting from the device, to an application, and possibly an internal active implant or other health wearable to transfer data.

During a panel discussion focused directly on Wearables, Flexible Electronics and Digital Health, the dialogue concentrated on fads vs. future and the means for health, wellness and big data of wearable technology. The speakers consisted of the presidents/CEO’s of the following companies: BlueSpark, SmartShape Design and Pulmonary Apps.

With involvement in both the design of healthcare products and medical devices, all three companies have found that innovation is growing in the market due to the smart connected devices that can be body worn from head to toe. The Internet of Things provides the eagerness of companies to reinvent their products to become “smart”, and as you can imagine is growing with endless opportunities. “We must think and predict the future,” said Mike Maczuzak, President of SmartShape Design.

So let’s focus on the healthcare space and assume where we will be in 5, 10, 20 years. Consumer products or clinical devices…

Here is an interesting way to look at the trends and the future of the medical device market… Individuals that are designing and using wearable devices today are those in younger generations. Conversely, the people that can benefit from the devices the most (primarily medical devices) are the baby boomer generation, 65 and older. This generation rarely use/s or have ever even downloaded an App. By considering the reality of the market, how can designers, engineers, and OEMs look at this gap? The shift in focus starts with the design features for the older generation to be able to use these wearable medical devices. The design is the challenge. Numbers show that today, 10,000 people a day are turning 65, just in the United States alone (and that this should last about 20 years).

Today, companies are designing Apps for their wearable medical devices. Let’s take a look at Parkinson’s Disease for example. As health behavior is challenging both patient experience and provider experience is important. The need for communication to react and keep patients informed of results, such as, medication intake, reducing rejection interactions and improving the life of the patient. For most patients though, we are finding non-compliance in their directions. This is the next challenge. Although OEMs, design engineers and contract manufacturers are developing a medical device for use, they need to consider options like remote monitoring, adherence, variability of the consumer and more.

Understanding health behavior is the key –wearables can set the mechanism to help achieve a managed and trained schedule for patients using devices such as medication management. In addition, design must be scalable. So then, the next question we ask ourselves is how do we change patient behavior? Think about your own personal fitbit or even a regular body-worn watch. You take it off to wash the dishes or give your child a bath and forget it for a few hours or even a day. So how can medical device wearables be diligent in reminding or alerting patients about their device? Connectivity is an endless opportunity. By feeding into electronic medical records, devices can alert a doctor or caregiver, alert an App or sound an alarm for out of range. Notifications need to be built into medical device wearables to assist in this challenge.

Challenges are and will remain a main factor in any medical device production. Our goals as designers or electronics contract manufacturers is to forward-think, experience, collaborate and solve problems. The value is strategy and work behind the device. The health space for wearables doesn’t just stop here. I look forward to your comments on this blog post, as it was a interesting topic to sit in on at the BioOhio Annual Conference.