CES 2020 – trends for drug delivery devices and
medical technology

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, will be shortly be taking over Las Vegas, as companies gather to showcase the latest in technological developments. We – Ben Cox, Head of Digital Design, and Paul Greenhalgh, Director of Design – will be there again to see if any of the 2019 trends have carried into the new decade, and what new developments might be applicable to drug delivery and medical devices…

One of the biggest trends at CES 2019 was voice tech. Alexa, Echo and friends seem to have infiltrated huge numbers of households in recent years, and the potential applications of voice technology extend far beyond asking Siri to turn the upstairs lights off when you don’t fancy leaving the sofa. At the Digital Health Summit in 2019, co-located with CES, the impact of voice on health technologies was a key theme.

Currently voice is mainly used to access a service – telling your home assistant to call someone, turn on a light, record you’ve taken your scheduled medication. The next step in its evolution is that it initiates the conversation, speaking without being spoken to. It might remind you about your doctor’s appointment in 30 minutes and ask if you need an Uber booked (or other taxi app of your choice), or ask if you’ve remembered to take your meds today.

Calling “voice” a trend is really underselling it – it’s already big, and it’s only going to get bigger. How and where voice might be used in medical devices is something worth seriously considering. Should we be thinking about delivering feedback and reassurance via voice as well as a screen or haptic feedback? What can we learn about the approach to designing for voice and apply this to other system interfaces? But let’s not underestimate the challenge – tone and language will likely have a huge effect on building trust – something even the biggest names in consumer tech have struggled with.

That brings us to another big trend at CES 2019 (and indeed at most other conferences we’ve attended in recent years): data, and what to do with it.

Patients and HCPs now have access to massive amounts of data on health and wellbeing – smart watches track your sleep, heartrate, step count – and that’s just from consumer devices. Increased volume and accessibility of data could have a hugely positive impact on both individual and overall health, allowing care to be personalised to an individual’s needs, or providing researchers and clinicians with data to deliver insights into disease and overall health management.

“Increased volume and accessibility of data could have a hugely positive impact on both individual and overall health”

However, increased data also brings increased risk, in the form of regulatory, security and privacy challenges. What happens to all of this data? Who will have access to it? Who should have access to it? Who owns it? In an industry as sensitive and personal as healthcare, all of this needs to be carefully considered and risks to patients mitigated.

A huge proportion of healthcare costs are hospitals themselves. Buildings are expensive to own and maintain, the cost of travelling to and from institutions isn’t negligible, and the risks posed to an inpatient from stress and infection need to be considered. Keeping people out of hospital where possible will help to reduce healthcare costs; home healthcare makes moral and financial sense, and tech is the key to enabling it.

At CES 2019 there were discussions around creating a virtual hospital where monitoring and care can be delivered remotely and with the aid of family members. It also makes it more likely that a single team can care for each individual – currently this is hard to achieve due to logistics within institutions and the need for handover between multiple care teams. Effective care is hugely important to the motivation of clinicians, most of whom went down a healthcare career path to help and heal people. Family members can also be informed about care plans, treatment and outcomes, even if they can’t physically be there.

What can the health industry learn from consumer tech?

Consumer tech is generally good at getting people to engage with technologies and influence their behaviour. There are definitely opportunities to learn from the consumer industry, particularly in considering tech as an enabler, and not just an add-on.

High tech solutions aren’t always the answer, but it will be interesting to see if some of the same questions are raised during the digital healthcare summit at CES 2020.

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