Medicine Comes Home

 Photo: David Ewald

Photo: David Ewald

The last two decades have brought a radical change to not just how much technology is in our lives, but the shape it takes, and the way it’s expected to relate to us.

In the U.S., and much of the West, that change has happened taken the form not just in the quantity of technology that surrounds us, but also in the shape that technology takes. If you walk into an American home you’re likely to find a multitude of digital devices: Everything from tablets, phones, and laptops, to smart TV’s, smart thermostats, video streaming boxes, and DVR’s. What you’re not likely to find though are things that look “technological”. In almost every case, we’ve watched the appearance of these objects change from things designed to stand out to things that necessarily had to fit in. As technology has become more pervasive, it’s also become more invisible.

But there’s one place this doesn’t seem to be happening: Medical equipment.

The same rush of innovation that swept through our homes has also produced a wave of new medical devices innovative not just in their ability to treat, but in their ability to do so outside the hospital environment. But while our phones become smaller, slimmer, and more subtle every year, medical devices continue to look like, well, medical devices.

Which raised some interesting questions for us: In world dominated by technology designed to hide itself, how much does design matter when your health, or even your life, is tied to something so visually separate from everything else around you? What happens when your home starts to look like a hospital, or when someone who’s always viewed themselves as healthy is suddenly tied to a device that reminds all the time that they are not? And if the rationale behind all this technology is to make our lives better — does the design of medical devices have to change to live up to that promise?

In this episode we look at the impact of this reality now that technology has enabled medical devices to leave the hospital and come home with us, how does their design affect the lives of the people using these devices — for the better, or for the worse.