Interview conducted by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
How eco-friendly are current blood glucose monitors?
It’s not really a question of how eco-friendly or un-eco-friendly current blood glucose meters (BGMs) are compared with, say, a fridge freezer or a Boeing 747. At Cambridge Consultants, we are currently developing a methodology we call “Ecovation” to generate compelling and exciting new concepts with a significantly reduced environmental impact that can be applied to any kind of product.
We chose to apply the methodology to a BGM. From an environmental perspective, the issue with BGMs is the materials associated with all the single use disposable items that are used for testing up to four times a day: the test strips themselves and the lancets – and then the disposable storage containers that are required to contain the unused and used single use items, that are disposed of every few months. Over 70% of the environmental impact of a BGM can be attributed to these elements.
How did Cambridge Consultants’ desire to develop an eco-friendly blood glucose monitor originate?
We recognize the important current and future trend for eco-design – consumers are demanding eco-friendly products, and regulations are forcing manufacturers to take sustainability seriously.
Many new products claiming environmental benefits have been launched in the consumer industry (products such as kettles, washing machines and TVs) – we wanted to demonstrate how the principles of Ecovation could be applied to the medical industry also. A BGM was a good product to choose because it is a medical product, but one which is used by consumers, and where the material waste is highly visible.
How eco-friendly is the blood glucose monitor that you have developed?
Our study has shown that our eco-BGM concept has the potential to have an environmental impact two-thirds lower than current BGMs. This is because we have reduced the materials previously required for all the disposable elements of the system and merged the functionality into a single consumable cartridge that is inserted into the monitor on a weekly or monthly basis (depending on how frequently the user tests). Rather than building in enough material to make all the single use elements handlable by the user, with our concept, the user is no longer required to do any handling of single elements – this is all done by the monitor itself – hence a lot of material can be stripped out with additional benefits to the user of a reduced number of use steps.
How easy to use is your eco-friendly blood glucose monitor compared to other monitors?
The fundamental concept incorporates previously separate disposable elements – the test strips, lancets and their packaging – into one single multi-functional cartridge and also removes the need for a separate lancing device as this is incorporated into the BGM. So rather than having to handle several separate elements per test, the user just has one cartridge that is replaced, and disposed of (in a specially designed disposable bin) every 28 tests (so every week or every month, depending on usage) – hence user steps (and fiddly user steps at that!) are dramatically reduced.
What benefits, other than being eco-friendly, are there to the blood glucose monitor you have developed?
The key benefit on top of eco-friendly is ease of use, as described above. This is both ease of use to take a test and portability (ie fewer “things” for the user to carry around with them).
In addition, the ease-of-use benefit should encourage proper use of the BGM. For example, whereas with current BGMs, lancets are sometimes reused throughout the course of the day (which is bad practice) because users want to avoid having to carry and replace fiddly lancets after every test, with our concept, re-use of lancets is not possible.
Also, as all used strips and lancets are contained in the cartridge, which only requires disposal after 28 tests, the “proper” procedure for disposal of sharps and blood-contaminated test strips is more likely to be adhered to.
Will the price of your eco-friendly blood glucose monitor be off-putting for diabetics who may wish to purchase it?
No. It was an important criterion for us that the cost of the monitor and disposable elements did not increase. We believe that costs could actually decrease as the volume of material required for the cassette, compared with all the other disposable elements previously used, is significantly reduced.
For example, we estimate that the test areas require less than a third of the surface area of a normal test strip – and the lancing parts of the cartridge are a tenth of the cost per test compared with a normal single use lancet.
How do you think the future of blood glucose monitors will develop?
There is a lot of activity around looking at alternative non-invasive methods of detecting blood glucose levels – eg using IR, ultrasound and dielectric spectroscopy. In the future, there could be a breakthrough in this area.
In the near future, I believe companies will continue to focus on improving ease of use. There are already some BGM products on the market that have made steps towards integration of test strips and lancets into the monitor, but the driver has been to improve ease of use rather than to reduce environmental impact. Cambridge Consultants has long advocated the consideration of the broader patient user experience alongside safety and reliability in the design of medical devices. Some medical device companies are starting to consider the environmental impact of their products but regulation driving this will be slower to come into effect than in the consumer industry.
What are Cambridge Consultants’ plans for the future?
With regards to this concept, we hope to patent our eco-BGM concept before talking to manufacturers in more detail about the design.
With regards to Ecovation, having previously generated an eco-vacuum cleaner concept, we are now applying the methodology to a digital camera, again with the aim of generating a compelling concept with significantly reduced environmental impact. We are investigating how alternative business models, similar to Zipcar, could offer more attractive but also more sustainable alternatives to owning the latest camera.
Where can readers find more information?
On our website (see below). Or contact Gemma Evans: Gemma.Evans@CambridgeConsultants.com
Corporate website - (http://www.cambridgeconsultants.com)
More information about Ecovation can be found in the press release - New eco-friendly breed of medical devices:
Or in the Innovation Management / Ecovation section of the website
About Gemma Evans from Cambridge Consultants
Gemma Evans is a senior consultant at Cambridge Consultants, specialising in innovation management. She has worked in innovation management for over 10 years for clients across many different industries, assisting them with innovation strategy, radical concept generation and technology portfolios.
Gemma is responsible for Ecovation at Cambridge Consultants.