A shift is taking place in medical product design. A number of companies have released devices that attach to iphones to complete their functionality. Alivecor has an add-on that enables the phone to act as an ECG monitor. Dermlite has an attachment that allows dermatologists to more efficiently diagnose skin cancers. There are a number of other similar devices as well. Masimo has just announced a pulse oximeter that connects to an iphone.

These developments illustrate an interesting change in approach. Rather than designing every bit of a new medical device from the ground up, functionality is being added to a base technology platform that provides the processing and feedback functions. The design team, therefore, doesn’t have to reinvent that wheel and can instead concentrate on the input sensor package and the graphical presentation of the information being supplied to the user.

Overall costs can come down if medical product designers can harness and augment already-developed technology. Coupling devices to iphones is one way of doing that. I believe we’ll be seeing more of this type of modular design. Could it lead to a rethinking of the way in which medical product design is done?