Health-Care Design

Diabetes Control Goes High-Tech

There's a huge market in the U.S. for anything that helps simplify life for the 20.8 million diabetics, and companies are stepping up with hot new devices

By Reena Jana

The World Health Organization states that more than 180 million people around the globe are diabetic, and that number is likely to double by 2030. The disease affects 7% of the U.S. population—20.8 million people of all ages—according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, while U.S. diabetics have an estimated $92 billion a year in direct medical expenses. And among Americans aged 20 years and older, 1.5 million new cases were diagnosed in 2005 (the most current statistics available from the CDC). As such, the market for diabetes-monitoring devices is growing—and medical-device manufacturers and industrial designers are increasingly taking cues from popular consumer electronics to devise insulin pumps and glucose monitors that are convenient and easy to use.

Companies are using this approach as both a marketing strategy and an effort to provide more accurate and efficient ways for patients to manage the disease, resulting in breakthrough product designs. Medtronic's (MDT) Paradigm REAL-Time system, seen here, is one example. Released in 2005, the monitoring device includes a wire that connects to a sensor fastened to a diabetic's skin. The device presents a patient's glucose levels in real time—the first device on the market to do so, eliminating multiple daily blood tests. Its unobtrusive design is stylish—it looks like other consumer electronics worn on a belt loop. Here, we present a selection of innovative concepts, prototypes, and devices that are in production or awaiting FDA approval that illustrate the influence of consumer electronic design on diabetes management tools.