Aya Caldwell, Program Associate, Global Health Initiative
MIT students and faculty revolutionize the process of innovation in emerging markets thanks to their ingenuity and an extraordinary agility to build and deploy solutions quickly in the field.
This conference track provides a hands-on introduction to a distinctive innovation platform developed by MIT innovators and their collaborators in the healthcare community. Products designed using this model have been shown to be better adapted to consumer needs and many are already deployed in resource-poor settings typical of emerging markets. To satisfy demand for technology in these markets, many global manufacturers retrofit or strip-down their products to make simplified, cheaper versions. This approach is sometimes called trickle-up or reverse innovation because it offers an alternative path in the creation of products for the developed world at lower cost and shorter time-to-market.
An MIT Approach to Healthcare in Emerging Markets
According to the WHO, for example, 70% of medical devices shipped from the developed world fail to properly function at their destination in an emerging market . To address this gap, MIT launched the Innovations in International Health (IIH) initiative within D-Lab at the MIT Edgerton Center. IIH is an active collaboration between researchers, corporations, users and health practitioners around the world who contribute to the growth of this innovation platform.
Among them, MEDIKits, a modular plug-and-play medical device prototyping platform, inhalable vaccine delivery technologies, RFID-enhanced disease surveillance systems, a medication compliance systems using cell phones and solar-powered medical sterilizers for rural healthcare settings. At MIT, IIH enhances the sustainability of its technologies by bridging the gap between the invention, funding, and clinical trial stages of products aimed at the patients in the developing world not served by current medical technology.
The group’s technology points the way towards a collaborative design approach where the user becomes a co-designer of medical technology not just a helpful source of feedback and needs finding.
Medical device designs for developing countries are often inspired from invention at the point-of-care in the field. They offer tangible “trickle up” technologies such as the XoutTB compliance system that can slash healthcare costs in developed markets since their mandate called for extreme affordability in the first place. IIH researchers follow new approach that avoids the traditional “design for strip-down” prescribed by the econo-devices of the past. Guided by fundamental bottom-up reinvention of device to meet user and regional needs the group relies on the field ingenuity of its users. To that end, an expertise in user co-design has been nurtured.
Rethinking design for the emerging markets has uncovered practical strategies shared by the presenters including:
• How incentives and diagnostics were brought together to create a medication compliance system that thrives with minimal basic health care infrastructures.
• Learn to design strategies for user innovation such as hybridization and content shifting, and how they can be empowered by rapid prototyping technology kits.
• Understand how the political anthropology of failed technology transfer can point the way to addressable gaps in the market.
• How to overcome cultural barriers to vertical cooperation among designers.
• Crowdsourcing, once the domain of software development environments, is being successfully transferred to medical hardware through MEDIKits
These insights have enabled a highly agile research community at MIT to explore and develop products aimed specifically at developing world settings. Ultimately, these successes may be brought back to the developed world at a fraction of the cost of both regulatory approval and commercialization efforts. The project the design evolution of transforming health care workers above their traditional professional requirements, and into the role of a technology innovator.