“The New Old” demands better medical device design

 In Medical Product Design

A clinic is the first place you might expect to see devices that look, well, clinical.

However, the growth of aging populations in the United States has brought more health care into patients’ homes. Medical devices for the elderly are as essential to their living spaces as a coffee table or a book shelf. For many individuals, machines and mobility tools are sources of independence, and the very things that allow them to age in place. Older generations of medical equipment may be unsightly, immobile and clinical in appearance. Today’s aging adults, dubbed “The New Old” by brand strategists, refuse to accept those conventions.

Self-sufficiency is a source of dignity for elderly patients. The small victories won each day through independent living may be reduced by the appearance of clunky, industrial devices, coils of wire, and displaced furniture.

For example, while designing an oxygen concentrator for a MPE (Formerly Mindflow) client, we heard the same thing over and over again during initial research with patients:

“I’m sure you’re going to do a fine job engineering a concentrator that works great, but please just don’t make it look medical.”

Impressions and perception are just as important to an aging demographic. They don’t want to stand out as people with medical conditions, because those conditions do not define them.

As more elderly people choose to remain in their homes, devices like respirators, pumps and lifts should enhance quality of life without detracting from the style and function of their surroundings. The more compact and visually elegant healthcare technology is, the more living spaces feel like parts of a home, not a clinic. This requires design consistency across devices so that none stick out. Clear branding builds confidence and peace of mind while encouraging patients to live their fullest lives.

Medical companies must think, act and operate more like a consumer brand or risk obsolescence. As healthcare migrates from hospitals to homes medical product manufactures will enjoy the greatest success if they recognize and act upon this important shift in the marketplace.

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