IfM Insights
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IfM Insights

Putting new healthcare technology to effective use: wearables for therapeutic cancer treatment

The development of cutting-edge wearable technologies that can monitor people during their cancer treatment is transforming our understanding of the disease and our ability to detect and treat it. But integrating such new technology into care is essential to its effectiveness.

By Elizabeth Tofaris

Image: Amy Reinecke/Institute for Manufacturing

Dr Veronica Martinez and her team at the IfM’s Cambridge Service Alliance are currently investigating a proof-of-concept for a therapeutic treatment of childhood cancer. The wearable device works by separating and changing the form of the immune system’s T-cells with small electric shocks generated by the user’s own body heat and movements.

Veronica’s research has focused on how patients — and all those involved in their care — might cope with these kinds of wearable technologies and ensure that their use in service delivery is patient-centric.

‘Healthcare delivery is highly complex. It comprises layers of processes [as well as] a network of patients and partners, delivery models, and regulatory requirements,’ she says.

‘These complexities, when combined with technological advancements, can prevent new technologies from being accepted and used effectively. Many devices end up being useless because the hospitals don’t know how to use and integrate them into their existing operations and systems.

‘So, with this research, we are focusing on the user element — not just the patient but also the nurse, the doctor, the clinicians, the haematologists, the director of IT, even the hospital trust. Every one of these stakeholders needs to understand how this device will be creating value.

‘With these devices, it’s not just about how to collect data, but what you do with it and what kind of messages you want to send to all those involved. Who has the information and how they act is crucial to its effectiveness.

‘Our research acknowledges that the development of technology has to have the user in mind. We don’t just need to develop the technology, but also need to understand how it will be developed and used.’

Child healthcare involves a lot of people, including patients and their family, oncologists, physicians, nurses, and other hospital employees. Veronica and her team interviewed people at all these points of the process in order to develop workable business models for the device.

‘Our research is the first to present a business model framework for therapeutic devices by elaborating on the benefits and challenges of product-service systems with the list of pros and cons of each scenario, and by considering not only the levels of business model and tactics but also the level of process,’ says Veronica.

By applying the findings to a case study (a wearable device called the Microfactory, which aims to treat children with blood cancer), the research identified the needs of the end-users, the different stakeholders of cancer treatment, the functions of the device and the possible uses.

It also highlighted that the flexibility of connections between the Microfactory’s digital system and existing hospital systems is critical for these devices to be successful in the market.

‘This type of business model systems thinking can help us understand how one hospital is different from another. It takes all the human elements and helps us understand how wearable devices can be utilised,’ says Veronica.

This approach highlighted that a greater focus on services, particularly the user-experience, is needed in order for these devices to be successful.

‘Without the right business models, wearable devices can’t be used by health services effectively because they won’t be developed with the right end-user needs in mind,’ says Veronica. ‘This approach is patient-centric, offering flexibility to patients and their families, while ensuring the devices can be used to their greatest benefit.’

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The Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) is part of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. Our vision: manufacture a better world.

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