Meet Auvi-Q, the new Siri for Allergy Patients?

Better Designed Medication Delivery for Food Allergies


Siri helps us when we need the nearest pizza restaurant or want to listen to our favorite song. Why can’t she help us when we are knee deep in a medical emergency?

Given my personal experience as a mother of children with food allergies, and my interest in patient centered design and the promise of mobile technology for improving health outcomes, I was excited to read about Auvi-Q, a newly designed Epi-Pen for individuals with serious food allergies. It’s a medical delivery device with an impressive design. I call it Siri for the allergy patient. To understand its innovation, we should first talk about the design flaws of the most commonly used device, the Epi-Pen/Epi-Pen Jr.

Design flaws of the Epi-Pen:

For live video coverage of this fantastic illustration check out the videos here: http://ihavefoodallergies.tumblr.com/

1. The injection delivery system:

This is a critical design flaw, which my son B highlighted in his allergy video. To give the injection, you pull off the blue cap, but the opposite end of the pen is where the needle pops out, which is counterintuitive. As a result, I have heard of many skilled trained medical professionals autoinjecting themselves rather than the patient. One study reported over 15,000 unintentional injections from Epi-Pens in the US between 1994 and 2007!

2. The size:

The Epi-Pen Jr. is about the size of a thick sharpie, which is hard to easily carry because it only awkwardly fits in a purse, and doesn’t really fit in any reasonably sized pockets. It has been suggested that this is a reason that a large percentage of individuals with food allergies fail to carry the pens with them, which can have life-threatening consequences.

3. Ease of Use:

In the middle of a serious allergic reaction, who can be rational and calm and remember how, when, and where to inject? (I have trouble with this one despite the fact that I am a trained health care provider.)

Design Improvements seen in the Auvi-Q:

1. The injection delivery system:

It changed the injection delivery system to be more logical: the needle comes out at the same end where the cap comes off. Hopefully this will lead to lower rates of accidental autoinjection.

2. The size:

It’s shaped like a cellphone, which may make it easier for patients and parents to carry the device with them.

3. Ease of use:

It talks to you! It really is Siri bundled into an epi pen, leading the user step by step through the medication delivery process. It reminds me of the voice instructions provided by automated external defibrillator devices.

After you take of the case, it says:

“If you are ready to use, pull off red safety guard.”

“If not ready to use, replace the outer case.“ (This command is good for those of us who are indecisive.)

After you remove the red safety guard it says:

“To inject, place black end against outer thigh, then place firmly and hold in place for 5 seconds.”

It then counts for you!

“5,4,3,2,1, Injection Complete.” (Who can tell time when a second seems like an eternity during an emergency)

Then it provides important additional instructions:

“Seek emergency medical attention.”

“This device has been used and should be taken to your physician for proper disposal and a prescription refill.”

From my perspective as a clinician, researcher, and parent, this is a revolutionary device which is only the first of many innovations to come in the field of digital health. Equally if not more important, it is an important example of innovation that can come from a patient centered design approach; the inventors of the device are patients themselves with food allergies, who could clearly identify the gaps in the existing medication delivery system.

Although Auvi-Q can’t give advice about when epinephrine should be administered during an allergic reaction, it does give me piece of mind that my son’s caregivers (including myself) can effectively deliver the medication in the case of an emergency. We have our appts with the allergist today, so I hope to be bringing this technology to our household asap.

Footnote: Illustrations provided by B. I also want to mention that I don’t have any financial relationships with Sanofi, the maker of Auvi-Q.

This post was first published on my old blog on Feb 4, 2013.

I tweet and blog about design, healthcare, and innovation as “Doctor as Designer”. Follow me on Twitter and sign up for my newsletter!

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