Roundup: Trends in Consumer Health Care

April 30, 2013

The world of consumer health care differs from the medical device sphere in numerous ways – but they both share a common goal: keeping people healthy. ‘People’ can range from the already healthy to the terminally ill, but the objective remains the same.

This week, we’re touching upon trends and innovations in the world of consumer health care products. These include wearable technologies, gender-neutral designs, sustainability, and devices that come with smartphone apps.

Take for instance, the new First Warning System® device: a bra that can detect breast cancer. Developers have embedded 16 small sensors into the fabric, tracking minute changes in shape, heat, and deep tissue activity. Cell mutations – namely, those often seen with breast cancer – can be detected within 90% accuracy even at a tiny size. Because lumps that are detectable by traditional mammograms have usually been growing for several years, early digital detection can catch them in a much earlier stage.

As long-held gender stereotypes lose steam, so too, do the days of pink vs. blue products ‘for her’ and ‘for him.’ The color palette of the future is not restrictive; it is organic and somewhat more gender-neutral. Products made ‘for her,’ such as toothbrushes, razors, and even tablet computers do not have to be baby pink or shades of violet to be successful. Women are increasingly dubious of blatant attempts to get their attention. Little boys – like the one who wanted to play with his sister’s Easy-Bake Oven – and litte girls alike are opting for products they choose themselves, rather than ones that are chosen for them. An interesting article by Fast Company explores the successes and failures of products marketed ‘for women,’ and concludes that using pastels and cliches is not the way to do it.

Many consumers have a growing concern for sustainability - and because the product can’t always be made more ‘green,’ designers are turning to re-vamping packaging instead. A roll of trash bags may be contained within itself, as the last one wraps around to contain the rest. Or a bar of soap with a water-soluable wrapper that makes the journey from store to shower that much quicker (and less wasteful). Artist Aaron Mickel suggests numerous packaging solutions in his Masters Thesis, ‘The Disappearing Package’, and companies are starting to take note.

Belkin has developed a baby monitor device that sits cribside, like a traditional monitor, but also comes with a smartphone app for moms on the go. Instead of lugging around a walkie-talkie type of receiver, mom or dad can listen to their infant via their smartphone or tablet. For an extra cost, the app also feautres advanced sound monitoring, cry notifications via text or email, and analysis of sleep patterns. The potential for technology to be seamlessly integrated into daily life can be seen in ideas like this. Ximedica’s own experience with the Zeo® Sleep Manager™- a lightweight, wireless headband device designed to monitor and improve sleep patterns - shared a similar focus on integration. By analyzing the user’s sleep patterns throughout the night, the Zeo can help point out sources of restlessness to improve Sleep Fitness™.

It’s clear that the world of consumer health care is changing at an incredible rate - it is up to product developers to not only keep up, but also set the pace. Technology is making us rethink our relationships with everyday objects, and seamless integration seems to be every developer’s goal. Our active lifestyles require products that can be used efficiently, both from a usability standpoint and a physical one. As innovations in technology and design continue to become more intuitive and less wasteful, product developers can finally tackle how to take the guesswork out of staying healthy.