Certain macrotrends in the healthcare and medical device industries have created an environment in which it is critical that products do a better job of supporting patients’ needs. In general, the population is aging. People are living longer and therefore require more care. But hospitals and physicians struggle to balance profitability with care excellence. The average length of stay for a patient decreased consistently throughout the 1990s. The shift in care has moved from the hospital to the home and from clinicians to family caregivers and the patients themselves.
Advances in technology have been able to support this trend. With the miniaturization and ruggedization of key hardware components such as pumps, processors, and displays, devices have become far more portable, and small enough to be hand carried, worn on the body, or transported on a wheelchair.
Patients themselves have also changed in recent years. Because patients (and their family caregivers) are able to access information via the Internet, they are becoming more knowledgeable about the care options—including devices, therapies, and interventions—they may receive to address their condition. Patients are also participating in virtual and real-world communities, and so are more empowered, invested, and active in the decisions related to their care.
Because of these macrotrends in healthcare, medical devices (both critical and noncritical) are used more often in the home and are used in different ways from in the hospital. It is useful to explore these thematic differences before discussing how medical products need to be designed specifically for home use.