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Diagnosis: Innovation Prescribed for Medical Device Market

March 4, 2016
“This is a new era in medical products with predications that the global market for consumer medical devices will exceed $10 billion by 2017,” said John Nottingham, co-president, Nottingham Spirk. 

It’s not a coincidence that Nottingham Spirk is located in a former church as this firm worships innovation.

As you look up the permanent blue sky painted in the dome of the heart of the building, the spirit of innovation is clearly present. Circling the dome are the layers of creation, literally. On the ground floor is the lab which produces prototypes. And the floors above are for design, focus groups and there is even room for a dog to lie quietly near a designer.

Nottingham Spirk has helped companies invent products that consumers didn’t even know they needed. Creations include the Swiffer SweeperVac, Arm &Hammer Spinbrush and Sherwin-William Twist & Pour. 

Now the company is turning its innovation lens on medical devices.

The company designed the ViewRay MRI, which was one of the first ergonomic scanners with an eye toward how a patient experiences the technology. Nottingham Spirk built the machine on premise. The final product took into consideration both patient comfort and logistics for the hospital.

Elements include an enclosure with visually calming forms and a highly adjustable bed to help make the entire procedure comfortable and accurate. The external housing was designed to minimize the visual size of the rotating internal components and allow for a wide range of movement. From an operations perspective, the system can be disassembled to move through ordinary doors, greatly reducing costs for hospitals. 

“This is a new era in medical products - for example, analysts at IHS have predicted that the global market for consumer medical devices will exceed $10 billion by 2017,” said John Nottingham, co-president, Nottingham Spirk.

To tap into this market the company formed a division called InnovateMD. Through this division Nottingham Spirk helped client CardioInsight  streamline a prototype for a biophysical electrocardiogram monitoring vest. The device, which was created to improve diagnosis and treatment of electrical disorders of the heart, was embedded with 252 EKG-type electrode sensors. The original prototype weighed fifteen pounds and was “medieval-looking” as it was strewn with wires. The weight of the product made it very difficult for a patient to use.  Nottingham Spirk created a lightweight, disposable vest that is comfortable, easy to put on and allows the patient mobility to navigate through the procedure.

The device won a Gold Edison award, and prompted the acquisition of CardioInsight by Medtronic, who purchased the company for $93 million.

The need to design products with the end use consumers in mind will become particularly important given the trends in the consumer healthcare market.

This sentiment is borne out by a study released this past fall by Harris Poll on behalf of Nottingham Spirk which reveals over 75% of U.S. adults would purchase medical products for home use.

The survey of over 2,000 U.S. consumers shows chronic health conditions - such as diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension - as one of the top drivers of consumers’ purchasing decisions. Indeed, more than four out of ten (44%) adults say the ability to manage a chronic condition at home would influence them to buy these products, and more than half say having more control over their own health would be a factor.

“Consumers are excited to be able to monitor and modify their own health behaviors,” said Vikki Nowak, vice president of Nottingham Spirk. “Providing them with the tools they need for use at home gives them the means to own their health destinies.”

In addition, healthcare costs are a big driver, as more than 40% of consumers would purchase these products to save money (e.g. fewer doctor visits). This is particularly true for U.S. adults who are 18-34 (54% compared to 41% of those aged 35 and older), and parents who have children under 18 (52% compared to 42 % of those without children under 18).

As these products brought transformative technology to the medical institutions the next phase is for products that will be sold directly to consumers.  A comprehensive process is necessary to develop medical products with end us in mind. One example is the reworked design on a product called SmartMouth, which was brought to Nottingham Spirk from Triumph Pharmaceuticals. The product, which provides 24-hour protection from bad breath by attacking the sulfur gas that’s created when bacteria in the mouth reacts with protein molecules in saliva and food, was hard to use. “Consumers loved the mouthwash, but hated the pumps, which were clumsy, wasteful, and hard to dispense accurately,” explained Jeffrey Taggart, program director, engineering team, Nottingham Spirk.

Through extensive prototyping, flow analysis, quality assurance and consumer testing, the team engineered a bottle that removes the burden of mixing an accurate dose from the consumer. The new delivery system is now available in Walmart stores.

Here is how this strategy played out behind the scenes.

  • The consumer research team conducted observational research—studying individuals using the original packaging, and documenting dosing behavior. The entire cross-functional team of designers, engineers and prototype technicians observed them, too, and developed dozens of concept directions based on the research and ideation sessions.
  • Industrial designers also conducted ergonomic testing of the prototypes—studying how consumers were gripping, pouring and tilting the spouts to make sure that they would dispense properly and accurately from any orientation.
  • Engineer and prototyping’s portion of the Vertical innovation capabilities included CAD modeling, prototype fabrication and testing, and optimization, which was critical to the design process. For precision and properly simulated behavior, these prototypes needed to be built using several different methods including CNC machining, 3D printing, and hand fitting and forming.
  • Part of the strategy involves reducing the cost of manufacturing, so that products can be sold at an affordable price. For example, several parts forming complex sub-assemblies were redesigned to become single components. This reduced the part count, assembly time, and labor, and ultimately drove down the cost.
  • The final phase of consumer research involved retail readiness. Feedback from focus groups resulted in more distinctive packaging and nearly doubled shelf capacity.
  • Sourcing department efforts ensured proper translation to manufacturing partners and assisted in debugging pre-production parts to ensure performance matched or exceeded the approved prototypes.

This process will continued to be used as the company moves in the direction of designing medical products that will be offered to consumers directly. “Increasingly, success in medical product innovation depends on having a deep understanding of the consumer perspective, and more than ever, healthcare costs for consumers are top of mind,” said John Spirk co-president of Nottingham Spirk.

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