MedTech industry warns ‘ridiculous’ level of secrecy surrounding NHS patients is thwarting innovation

Speaking as part of a webcast organised by MLE Creative Electronics and MediLink West Midlands (MediLinkWM), industry leaders called on the Government and the NHS to improve access to patients, whom they claim are key to the research and development process in the MedTech sector.

There is a significant difference between what people say they do and what they actually do, so to observe techniques will lead to much better products as a result

Steve May-Russell of product development consultancy, Smallfry, said: "Certain areas of medical device development are restrictive because of conditions around talking directly to patients. There's a certain amount of paranoia about medical records and information and secrecy, which is just ridiculous. Patients are going onto websites all the time and sharing all sorts of intimate information, such as how drugs react and their symptoms. People are used to sharing information through texting and blogging and they are willing and happy to share. We could benefit from a bit more openness."

Andrew Gibbs of Warwick Design added: "Legislation is stopping people from getting involved. Patients are very keen to get technology and they know what they want and how they want it delivered. They can be a very powerful influence on development."

Certain areas of medical device development are restrictive because of conditions around talking directly to patients

They said getting patients involved in this way is critical as they often fail to properly use equipment that could be of huge benefit, either because they have not been suitably educated or it has not been designed and delivered in a way best suited to their needs.

May-Russell said: "Good design is appropriate design. We are taking devices away from the experts and the specialists in hospitals and putting them into the homes of people - the target group we call the 'worried well'. We have to design things that are reassuring and satisfying to use and the best ideas come from watching what people do. There is a significant difference between what people say they do and what they actually do; so to observe techniques will lead to much better products as a result."

In terms of approaching design, asked whether form or functionality was more important, most of those taking part chose form, claiming that how something worked made more of an impact than how it looked, particularly in the medical industry.

Patients are very keen to get technology and they know what they want and how they want it delivered. They can be a very powerful influence on development

Nathan Smallman of mobility aids company, Sculpta Ceramics, said: "When it comes to designing for the medical market, function has to come first. Whereas we do take aesthetics into consideration, ultimately our customers' needs are the most important factor. We have to consider the contour, fit and weight of our products to suit our customers, so the function dictates the form and adds to the overall look of the product."

People are used to sharing information through texting and blogging and they are willing and happy to share. We can benefit from a bit more openness

A dding to the debate, Danny Godrey of product developer, eg technology, continued: "The 'form or function' debate rumbles in most areas of product design. However, I think it is more clear-cut in the medical sector than almost anywhere else. The term medical device is defined clearly in the Medical Device Directive. Essentially, it has to actually do what the manufacturer says it does. While form is clearly an important aspect for both the commercial and ergonomic success of a device, function has to come first."

But May-Russell added that, when you move into the consumer market, aesthetics has an increasingly important role to play. He said: "You can't say one is right and another it wrong, but there are certain times when function has to be a priority and what it looks like is secondary."

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