PDT an Astronics Company: Product Design and Development Firm in Chicago, IL

Connected Health Product Development: Four Avenues for Leveraging a Smartphone in Your Product Solution

Mark Schwartz, PDT CEO


More than twenty years ago, as I finished up working on the Motorola StarTac, the first flip mobile phone, I could only imagine what the cell phone would become. In 1995, I left Motorola to establish PDT, where we’ve been fortunate enough to help bring product solutions to market that have spanned the gamut of industries: medical devices, defense products, consumer electronics, aerospace solutions, toys…


During these two decades, I’ve had the unique experience of watching the evolution of connectivity, the proliferation of the smartphone and how recently the two are coming together to redefine how we manage our health. Call it ‘connected health,’ ‘telemedicine,’ ‘telehealth,’ or ‘mobile health,’ people are increasingly wanting to leverage the familiarity and convenience of their smart phone to help them manage conditions or maintain wellness. Physicians, hospitals, insurance companies and pharma all have a stake in this movement as well.


Considerations such as durability, battery life, security, user experience and much more are typically top of mind for our clients as they embark on these programs. Another, about which I’ll expand on here, is connectivity and communication with the smartphone. My team has been faced many times with the challenges associated with developing products that have to communicate with each other and that have varying requirements. I like to break down the avenues of how a health solution can leverage a smartphone into four categories and levels of complexity.


Smartphone App

The Emotion Sense App for iPhone and Android is one example of a ‘wellness’ app that aims to give users the power to explore how their mood changes are possibly affected by or affecting the activities they engage in. The app requires the user to report his moods, thoughts and symptoms while it gathers data on physical activity, sociability and mobility in parallel through the phone’s integrated sensors, including the accelerometer and geopositioning. Simple and relatively inexpensive to develop, apps can be incredibly powerful tools, especially when they take advantage of the host of tools already built in to the smartphone; however, accuracy of the data can be questionable as there is typically some requirement of user input. Of course choosing the right mobile platform, be it Android, iOS or others is paramount. You can read a little more about this here.


Smartphone + Wireless Device

Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, Nike and more have developed wearable fitness trackers that track everything from movement to sleep, then communicate the data to a user’s smartphone via an app. The benefit of this development approach is your ability to put the specific sensors you need for your application in your own device, rather than depending on the varying sensors built into different smartphones. Architecture is key when this sort of program is developed. Consider which wireless protocol to use, which battery, and how much bandwidth you’ll need. See our chart that outlines the pros and cons of various wireless protocols and best applications for each.


Smartphone + Hardwired Device

I like to call these “Appcessories” (combining an app with a physical accessory). This is when you create a device that is hardwired to a smartphone, leveraging the smartphone for any combination of battery power, computing ability, user interface, screen and/or more. A great example of this, while not health related, is the SCOUT Satellite Communications Device for soldiers in the field. This is a great example of a different industry creating a solution that could easily inspire unique solutions for parallel industries; in this case, life sciences or telemedicine. In the instance of SCOUT, an iPhone is used as the user interface and brains of the device, is designed to be protected from the elements when integrated into the device, and leveraging the iPhone in this way enabled us to redesign a solution that was previously 160 pounds of cumbersome, heavy and fragile equipment into a 6 pound package. Just think of the implications for home-use medical devices.


Medical Device Ecosystem

The final of my four levels of connectivity and smartphone integration is a medical device ecosystem, where a smartphone is the central hub of a suite of products that have the ability to gather data, communicate it to many different sources, often leverages the cloud, and can even use the data collected to take an action, such as delivering a drug.  This, of course, is the most complex development program, requiring research, user experience development, engineering, software development and more. A clear benefit of this route is that the ecosystem is not dependent on and will not be obsolete as quickly as the average smart phone since the sensors, computing and other critical functionality are built into the other devices within the ecosystem.

There are, of course, so many more pros, cons and considerations before embarking on a development program involving the integration of a smartphone. I’ve created a list of things to think about at the onset, which can be viewed by clicking here.


If you are involved in a program like this and have more questions, I’d be happy to talk to you, just send me a note.



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