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Designing the perfect mHealth device

Some time ago as part of a series on ‘mHealth Myths and Reality’ I made the point that there was no point trying to choose the perfect device for mHealth applications. I still think that’s true but events this week make me want to qualify that – unlike politicians, I’m happy to admit when I’ve got things wrong.

Ascom’s Myco

Firstly I attended an event called EHI Live, an important UK conference for the health IT industry, attracting users and suppliers in large numbers. It was somewhat disappointing to see the low level of mHealth participation at this event, being dominated by the EMR vendors, but there were some highlights. In particular I was delighted with the Ascom Wireless stand where they were launching their ‘Myco’ smartphone which they’ve designed and built for the clinical setting. You can see a picture of their giant-sized demonstration version below – the real version is much more pocketable!

mhealth perfect device

Tim from Ascom demonstrating their Myco device (not actual size!)

Fundamentally it’s an Android smartphone with a toughened screen, water ingress protection, a built-in clip and a very neat top screen, which gives you a pager-style interface to pick up alerts with just a glance down. It seemed to me they’d really thought about their intended users here, and this device would be an easy transition for nurses especially. Beyond the device itself, Ascom seem to have put a lot of thought into making the interface really simple to use, and indeed have developed special apps to build in workflow and alerting capabilities, as well as a way to provide access to authorised apps, so this is more of an ecosystem and not just a nice device. I’ve written before about the failure of healthcare management to provide mobile technology to their clinical staff and Ascom’s approach seemed to remove all the old objections. (Incidentally, Ascom’s MD Robert Wood writes a great blog on technology adoption which I recommend to you).


Later in the week I tuned into an excellent webinar hosted by Validic where Paula LeClair of Telcare was talking about the progress they’ve made with their mobile connected blood glucose meter. For those of you who don’t know Telcare, they were the first to come to market with a BGM which incorporates an onboard GSM module to allow direct connectivity for your BGM – no wires, Bluetooth or anything else. BGMs are obviously a critical device for many diabetics, especially if you’re insulin dependent, and it has always struck me as odd that many BGMs are still unconnected, or only connect via a PC cable. For diabetics and their carers it’s critical to know not only what those blood sugar readings are, but also to know that the readings are being taken regularly. Now that the Telcare device has been in the field for some years, they are starting to get real evidence on how their device can really help with compliance, and also free up time for their clinicians. Paula reported that in the case of Kaiser Permanente it freed up two-thirds of the nursing team’s time, because they had all the data in advance of patient reviews where previously they had to spend a lot of time transcribing this data manually. It was also exciting to hear that Telcare are working on a new device with a touchscreen, based on Android, which will allow apps such as activity and diet trackers from an approved library to be downloaded.

In Conclusion

So it seems like it is possible to design a device that’s really optimised for mHealth after all. But the reason these devices will be successful is not because they’re clever gadgets (though they are) but because they follow the fundamental rules that I’ve previously laid out in my ‘6 Steps to mHealth Success’ methodology. In particular:

  • they are designed with the needs of all stakeholders in mind, and deliver real benefits.
  • they are designed for success, in terms of being simple to the point of being ‘foolproof’

It’s great to see this sort of best practice being more widely adopted. As usual I’d love to hear from you with other examples of your own, or you can always contact me.

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