If Pumps Were Like iPods?

Call goes out around the world to beautify medical devices.


with Amy Tenderich



Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!


May 2007 —Last month, I read that Apple Inc. sold its 100-Millionth iPod. Ah, those perfectly aesthetic little MP3 devices for enjoying your music… I have one in wasabi green, and I love it. And then it dawned on me: why is it that consumers everywhere get the most sleek, sexy, and easy-to-use little gadgets, while we – whose lives depend on medical devices – generally get the clunky stuff of yesteryear?

Although glucose meters and insulin pumps have come a long way, they are still a far cry from the super-slim design and irresistible user experience that make products like the iPod so insanely popular.

Wouldn't it be nice if medical devices were designed like consumer electronics (that also happen to have an important medical function)? Considering that we live and breathe by these gadgets – much more so than by any music player – it's shocking that "look and feel" have traditionally been such low priority in their development.

Shaking the Design Tree
Just for fun, and to get the conversation going, I posted an "Open Letter to Steve Jobs" on my web log last month, asking the famed Apple CEO to lend his design expertise to medical technology.

The idea was not to suggest that Apple actually manufacture medical devices (they wouldn't have the expertise), or even that pumps should become iPods. What we're saying is simply that medical functionality and sleek design need not be mutually exclusive.

With the state of today's technology, it should be easily possible to create streamlined medical devices that might be just a half-inch thick, or use a soft-touch "scroll wheel" for commands instead of big buttons, or allow the user to set custom "ring tones" instead of standard beep alerts. Consumers want choices, right? And we, the people with diabetes – 20-million and growing in the U.S. – are consumers, too.

My appeal to Apple was picked up all over the Net and even around the globe!

Dozens of people with diabetes came forward to voice their concerns:

"Our problem is that the device creators have satisfied our basic needs and then just stopped. We have Functionality and Reliability, but none of the other design factors … of Usability, Proficiency, and most importantly, Creativity."

"Design matters, aesthetics matter. We assume the insides are going to work, now let's spend some more time and energy on the outside, so that we can move beyond the pump as simply a 'medical device' to something larger like a 'health and life enhancer' for people with diabetes. Good function and good design are not an either/or proposition."

"Would this make me any healthier? Not by itself. But here's my thought: If making the user experience more friendly… makes me want to take readings that many more times a day, then yes, it just might lead to better control, and overall contribute to better health and a longer, more enjoyable, productive life."

A Pleasure to Use
Although Apple Inc. could not be reached for comment, many professionals in the diabetes industry responded with enthusiasm, too:

"Our ultimate vision is to integrate the devices into consumer products like cell phones, wrist watches, and PDAs, and to make the user interface more intuitive, so people can use the devices with very little instruction," said Steve Sabicer, a senior PR manager at Medtronic Diabetes.

"Apple uses the technology to mask the technical complexity of its products… so it's an intuitive experience," says Joel Goldsmith, a postdoctoral student at Stanford University's Biodesign Innovation Program and formerly with Medtronic. He kind of hit the nail on the head when he added: "(The iPod) is not only attractive and aesthetic, but also incredibly easy to navigate, and can be discreetly worn... It's become a lifestyle product – an extension of people's identity, and it's a pleasure to use."

Yes, a pleasure to use! That's what we're shooting for here. For devices we carry with us 24/7, often attached to our bodies, the Desirability Factor should be very high – be it compact size, bright colors, or customized sounds and commands.

If pumps were like iPods … maybe fewer people with diabetes would be resistant to using them, meaning they could take better advantage of the most effective therapies to date.

* Amy Tenderich is co-author of the new book, Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes.

Read more about Amy Tenderich.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 17, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.
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