Tonight the winner of the AXA PPP Health Tech & You awards is to be announced during an event at the Design Museum where the contending projects are on display. Among the candidates is the Bruise suit, an impact detection system for people with paraplegia developed by students at Imperial College London and the RCA as part of the Sports Innovation Challenge. Also in contention is a project by former SIC student and IDE graduate Anna Wojdecka. Lumo is a real time graphic reader for blind and visually impaired people which translates lines and colours into vibration and sound. Both of these projects are both technically interesting developments and provide a benefit to the user, but possibly neither is what you would think of immediately as being Health Tech.
The title of the awards may immediately bring to mind a small electronic box of gadgetry the purpose of which is to cure illnesses / maintain health and activity / assist in development like the Tricorder from Star Trek. In part this is borne out by a large number of finalists in the competition, albeit the small box of gadgetry comes in the form of a phone. The competition is quite heavily populated with Apps, some designed to replace existing equipment or make expensive equipment more accessible, some to help with organisation of health records and appointments, some to promote relaxation or good dental hygiene. So many of the entrants have utilised the technology available in a smart phone to achieve the desired deliverable of helping to maintain or improve the users health, some to greater success than others.
But are Apps the future of Health Tech? When designing any product you will need to consider several important aspects beyond will it work. These include “who will use it?” “is there a need?”
Whenever equipment is designed for Health Tech markets there must be consideration taken with regards to who is using the device. Age, dexterity, cognitive ability, functional ability, all these factors need to be taken into account. Friendly user interfaces can be created well using Apps, but you need to ensure that the end user is going to be comfortable with smart phone technology. Often in the cases where the need is the greatest, the suggestion of smart phone based technology is not applicable.
We should also consider whether this Health Tech is actually of benefit to people, or just a bit of a gimmick making using of the processing power available in smart phones. Will these Apps become a defining component in our Health Care regimes? Perhaps in some cases we can live without another App in our lives, and likely in others the technology the App fronts will be superseded by new technology being developed in the field.
Smart phone Apps undoubtedly have their place in modern Health Care, when they provide a time/money saving purpose that is of real benefit to the user … and they are usable. But perhaps the real future isn’t simply re-packaging the technology around us, but in genuine research and development into new systems which can have a positive impact on peoples lives. It was rewarding to see genuine new technology developments on display at the exhibition, albeit possibly in the minority and we wish the Bruise team and Anna all the best of luck for the awards tonight.