How an “old”​ industry disrupts and goes exponential… Rethinking Incontinence Care

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“We need intelligent diapers! That would be a real benefit for our customers…” Anja van Deijk told me in one of the many Moonshot discussions we had, over at the Philadelphia Zorg headquarters back 2015. “For sure they must be already available somewhere” Dorinda Kuijf replied. After an extensive search we concluded that this was not the case. Sure there were lots of initiatives but no real products that could be put to the test. Until one day in summer 2015, Maarten den Braber got us connected with MediSens, Wireless, Inc. Within two weeks we got together at Freedomlab in Amsterdam and the magic product was shown. Indeed it worked, Medisens did a demonstration by pouring salted water (simulating urine) in a really big diaper, bigger then I’ve ever had seen. Then he showed on a smartphone the saturation levels of the diaper… “Sold!” we told him. The product was still in an early state of development. Every diaper had to be man made in a laboratory.

Within two months we did a clinical trial and tested the diapers intensively. I didn’t know anything about diapers (still don’t) but I soon learned that since the seventies the nearly 1000 patents that have been issued related to diaper design and construction are almost all about the absorbents and manufacturing technics. But non of them where on the subject of data or connectivity. So what do we have here? Some rough math… say a typical care company has 1.000 clients who are incontinent, and need to be changed 3 times a day. That’s 1 million diapers per year…

The standard first response you get when you introduce a new product, an innovation or a change in procedure is “What does it cost?” and “What is the benefit?”. Businesscase thinkers! They think in percentages, 10% cost reduction, 10% rise in quality equals a good business case. And that is fine, it keeps the company healthy and in good shape. However, since my visit at the Singularity University Think Tank in Silicon Vally back in 2014, I like to think in 10X instead of the 10%. Not because more is always better, or because we always must maximize everything (I’m still Dutch) but because you can not do things 10X better, cheaper, faster… whatever, by trying to slice a portion (until it bleeds) from costs or just work a bit harder. You really need to do things completely different. So, the first reaction for this new diaper was classical: “Are we able to do less diaper changes, that can compensate for the additional costs and at the same time create a benefit for our customers?”.

Well, the answer is Yes! No problem! If you are able to adapt and customize your care procedure to your individual clients you can differentiate from the mean and create a businesscase per client where costs go down while quality goes up. Especially for clients who have multiple disabilities and need 24/7 care, who have customized beds and always need a lifter to be changed. They benefit HUGELY from a diaper that is only changed when needed. The effects of a wet bed, wet cloths or a wet wheel chair on bathing, cleaning and washing are huge. If you also take into account the effects on Urinary Tract Infections (UTI), the usage of antibiotics and other drugs or the effects of urinary acids on the really expensive special orthopedic mattresses, the businesscase is easy.

But it is still classical thinking… By digitizing the diapers, we’ve suddenly filled in the first D of “6 D’s of Exponentials“. Now we potentially enter the realm of the 10X instead of the 10%. But we still map the benefits on past problems and not on future solutions. And there are many future solutions, but you need to start thinking differently to see them. If you think, for example about people with (mental and physical) disabilities and all the focus is on caregiving, then your actions will hopefully lead to beter care. But if instead all your focus is on a solution where you give the least amount of care as possible but enable client to take care of him/herself as much as possible, you are change the landscape. You start to transform from a caregiver to an enabler. And that’s the moment you’ll see the potential of technology as an enabler.

Now in 2018, Medisense together with Abena have made the product mature and scalable, so it can be produced at reasonable costs, and the businesscase thinkers can give a go and start enabling the future!

Whitepaper: Rethinking Incontinence Care, Eva Tansem Andersen, Diederik Burer, Dorinda Kuijf

product: Abena Nova


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