Amy Tenderich is one of the pioneers of the e-patient movement. She is a respected, prolific writer who created one of the most well-read and trusted diabetes blogs around called Diabetes Mine. For the past three years Diabetes Mine has hosted a contest to promote innovation in the design of tools used by diabetes community. The competition all started as a result of a letter Amy posted on her blog in 2007 to Steve Jobs. She voiced what many in the diabetes community felt about their pumps , pens and monitors: "Medical devices are also life devices, and therefore need to feel good and look good for the patients using them 24/7, in addition to keeping us alive." She implored the Apple CEO to help spur innovation in the medical device community and show them what was possible. One of Amy's ideas was to use crowdsourcing, a key tenet of Web 2.0, to foster the change diabetics were seeking. This led to the formation of what-is-now an annual Design Challenge. Such is Amy's influence that many heavyweights came forward to support the effort. The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) underwrites the annual competition (I'm a huge fan of CHCF's iHealthBeat) and the renowned design/innovation firm IDEO also supports it.
The 2010 contest welcomes entries from anyone "passionate about diabetes and product design" from patients to caregivers to designers to developers and engineers. This year there will be 3 Grand Prize winners who each receive $7,000, and perhaps more importantly, introductions to venture capitalists and a consult with the experts at IDEO. Two additional $1,000 awards will be granted to "Most Creative Idea" and "Best Kids' Concept." Deadline for submissions (which must be in the form of a 2-3 minute video) is April 30th. In 2009 the contest received over 150 entries, from multiple non-invasive ways to measure glucose (through the skin, eyes, and even via chewing gum), to a variety of Smartphone applications, to high-tech foot scanners for early detection of diabetic neuropathy. The Grand Prize winner was a system that turns the iPhone into the controller for a combined glucose monitor and insulin pump.
Ultimately what this competition proves is that those living with diabetes are no different from other consumer population. They want their devices to be comfortable, easy to use and attractive in addition to being functional. So how can the medical device and pharma industries take advantage of the remarkable ideas generated by the design submissions. Look at them. Watch the videos. Listen to what the inventors are saying. Start with the 2009 entrants and once 2010 is complete view their submissions, too. This is what your market is looking for. And take note: Samantha Katz, last year's Grand Prize winner, was actually hired by Medtronic Diabetes to help design their next-generation insulin pumps.