Home Monitoring for Liver Health
Rubi is an investigation of home wellness monitoring and telemedicine applications for liver transplant recipients. The device uses light sensing technology to measure blood content indicative of liver health. A paired app collects data to identify trends over time and simplify communication between doctor and patient.
Rubi's form is inspired by the lives of its users, the objects they might surround themselves with, and the materiality of home. I hope that by reframing how we view the devices that track our health, health tracking can become a less scary⏤and perhaps even delightful⏤endeavor.
Behind the Design
Liver transplant is a life-saving last resort when the organ has failed due to damage or illness.
performed last year
avg cost in first 6 months
on the wait list
survival after 5 years
Lifetime health is a balance
Transplant recipients will take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives. This means frequent monitoring and regular doctor visits. If the immune system is too strong, the body will reject the new liver. If it is too weak, they will be susceptible to infection.
Check-ups are frequent
Between travel to the doctor's office, waiting, blood tests, and trips to the pharmacy for ever-changing prescriptions, time lost to health monitoring quickly adds up. Time spent at the doctor is also time being exposed to other sick patients with a weakened immune system.
"I am down to 12 pills a day and one blood test per week. I will always take anti-rejection drugs and have a blood test each month."
liver transplant recipient
1 year post-transplant
Connect patients with healthcare workers remotely to minimize travel time and exposure to doctor waiting rooms.
Explore noninvasive monitoring options for a more pleasant and painless experience.
Provide quick and actionable data to ease the stress of waiting for results and shorten feedback loops.
How might we help liver transplant recipients track health from home?
What's the deal with bilirubin?
When discussing the project with professors of physiology and immunology, I was directed toward bilirubin as a possible opportunity area. Elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood cause jaundice, which is a visible signal of a compromised liver.
Opportunity: Computer Vision
Patients already have to undergo extensive blood work and testing, so how could a passive system supplement current processes? Today computer vision is being used to track incredibly complex physical functions, from daily vital signs to early disease diagnostics.
New Tech Spotlight:
Another group that requires frequent bilirubin measurements is newborn babies. Like with liver transplant recipients, doctors have historically relied on blood tests to measure newborn liver health. With the Philips Bilichek, however, they can take a transcutaneous bilirubin measurement.
Basically, that means it measures bilirubin with a super sensitive light pressed against the forehead. Not only is it non-invasive, but the test is quicker and results are immediate.
How might we adapt transcutaneous bilirubin measurement for personal home use?
wrap + cap
When considering material selection, I wanted to marry the softness of home with the resilience expected from medical devices. Recent innovations in textile technology allow yarns to be individually coated with hydrophobic/oleophobic finishes so we can still achieve the soft touch of fabric without compromising cleanability and abrasion-resistance.
Objects that touch your face
tapered top touch point
wider face contact point
Bilirubin readings and trends over time
Direct communication with doctors
Manage prescriptions and medication by mail
Extreme Users + Flawed Systems
Transplant recipients interact with healthcare to an extreme that uncovers flaws and inefficiencies in a system we all rely on. By designing for their experience, we can build health practices that can benefit everyone.
As the Internet of Things expands, the objects in our lives collect more data about us. It is up to designers to display this data in a way that is aggregated, actionable, and magical.
Why Not a Wearable?
In this case, a reading once or twice per day is perfectly adequate. Rather than always building a continuous data self, I imagine a future where tracking health is a habit of self-care like brushing your teeth or pouring a cup of coffee in the morning.
As medical devices make their way into the home, designers must adjust how we approach their look and feel to evolve with changing context. I'm excited by innovation in textile fabrication and protective coatings.