Medical Mobility

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



People like to move around, and they like to take their things with them when they do. This is especially true of things we need to maintain our health and fitness. This is not only the case for electronic devices, people have been carrying around pills and pillows for years to feel better on the road. Hotels have gyms and pools, and shops everywhere carry personal products for health, hygiene, and grooming.

In the case of portable medical products, it was mostly drugs or physical-assistance products like canes, casts, crutches, and wheelchairs until very recently. The first widespread use of portable medical electronics (if you don’t count the doctor’s beeper) was the pocket blood-glucose meter. Now we are on the verge of people walking around with an artificial pancreas on their hip. These advanced devices are only the beginning, and application spaces in and around health and fitness with continue to expand and develop.

When it comes to medical mobility, however, it is more than just a matter of hooking a cart up to a battery and dragging it around with you. That electronic system must not only be shrunk down so you can get it off the cart and on to your person, that system must retain (an often add) its core functionality and still meet medical safety standards. Being cost-effective is also a good thing, I have heard.

One issue is that a given sports sensor may do the same job as that outpatient medical sensor, but the regulatory environment each faces is wildly different. That’s why you don’t hear many stories about the batteries in portable medical devices exploding, their circuits are designed to a much higher standard. This also impacts that cost-effective thing.

If safety issues are not addressed, eventually there will be an situation that triggers an aggressive response from the public, fomenting knee-jerk legislation that may or may not properly address the issue. The current brouhaha over a famous Korean smartphone manufacturer comes to mind. A lot of consumer product regulation is put into place immediately after a serious injury or death, with public pressure driving legislative action.

The problem is that a regulatory solution may cause more problems than it solves. Hasty imposition of standards not well thought out can damage or even destroy an industry. Onerous rules can stifle development and innovation. We need to create intelligent standards for personal electronic devices for both the medical and personal space that are complementary if not outright compatible.

As mobile medical blurs into personal health, the need to ensure consumer safety is counterweighted by business’ desire to maximize profit. The industry needs to address this internally before regulations and standards get imposed upon it from legislative bodies and product safety organizations.