Inside the Design: Blumio Blood Pressure Monitors
In 2016, Blumio developed technology that uses small radar sensors to produce instant blood pressure readings. Blumio then challenged Whipsaw to reimagine the traditional air-pump cuff used by medical technicians to measure blood pressure.
Our first task was to conceptualize how to package their transformative technology into an approachable design for patients asked to monitor their blood pressure from home. What resulted was a sophisticated armband form factor. Not only was our design slim and comfortable, but Blumio’s cuffless technology also meant it didn’t squeeze the arm like a traditional blood pressure cuff. In fact, the device can take measurements all day long without patients feeling a thing.
Since then, the world has been reshaped by a pandemic, and patients are taking even more agency when it comes to their health. In response, designers are focused on developing subtle medical solutions for continuous monitoring. So when Blumio reached out to us in 2020 with a new challenge—to take that same technology and wrap it around your wrist—we were instantly on board.
Designing a truly comfortable medical wearable in a wrist-worn form factor isn’t easy. We needed to ensure it was durable and reliable enough for extended use while nailing a design that didn’t draw attention. We went through many iterations, including a band and a patch that sticks comfortably to your wrist. Here’s a look at the evolution of Blumio’s blood pressure monitoring devices.
Spotlight Blumio Designers:
5 Design Questions with Cole Derby & Galen Eliason-Carey
Whelan: Let’s dive in by discussing the benefits of continuous monitoring versus traditional “spot check” blood pressure readings.
Derby: When most people think of blood pressure monitoring, they think of an old school arm cuff reading at the doctor’s office or hospital. Unfortunately, those single point blood pressure readings don’t fully capture how your blood pressure fluctuates over the course of the day. Maybe you’ve just run up the stairs to your doctor’s office. Maybe you’re anxious. Maybe it’s early in the morning and you’re half asleep and haven’t taken your medications. What’s more, as a patient, I’ve sometimes found myself inadvertently trying to manipulate readings by breathing more slowly.
Continuous readings provide a much clearer picture of a patient’s blood pressure, including fluctuations throughout the day and night. Your blood pressure naturally drops by 10-20% during sleep, for example, so a lack of dipping is an indicator of cardiovascular risk. That’s why night readings are particularly important because if your blood pressure doesn’t decrease during sleep, you’re more likely to suffer from heart disease and strokes.
Eliason-Carey: Continuous tracking is also more real because it’s done in the comfort of your home. In the case with Blumio, it measures your blood pressure throughout the day and produces a report with visualizations of the trends and fluctuations. Blumio also brings in a convenience factor to health monitoring. Now, blood pressure monitoring doesn’t need to disrupt your daytime activities or disturb your sleep.
Whelan: Why the decision to make the design leap from the arm to the wrist?
Derby: The armband design worked out great, but the wrist is simply a better place to monitor blood pressure because of the arteries located there. The skin is also thinner on the wrist, and it’s easier to get to…Just roll up your sleeve.
Blumio’s goal was to come out with a device under their brand that works for clinical settings. You go to the doctor and they put Blumio’s wristband on the patient, and the monitoring begins.
Eliason-Carey: We also considered the concept of an adhesive patch. The patch form factor is like a second skin for the wrist. Even if you sweat as you go about your day, or if you jump in the shower, it still stays stuck to the wrist. Because it’s a patch, the adhesives can also be disposed of, making it a hygienic option for clinical applications.
Whelan: Can you take us through the design process for these concepts?
Derby: It was a fairly traditional process. We started by sketching designs that could be worn around the wrist. We had to ask ourselves, “Is the final result going to be a device that’s actually stuck to the wrist? Does it look like a watch? Is it a band?” We knew it needed to be highly secure and nicely positioned the entire time it’s worn. Slowly, we found out through prototyping and brainstorming that the wristband-based approach was more of an issue than a benefit. It just added more complexity to the mechanical engineering aspects of the design. Whereas with an adhesive, the form factor was easy to put on and off. It’s like a super adhesive bandaid.
We experimented with different medical adhesive materials and had to take in considerations like stickiness and arm hair. I went through one of Blumio’s tests myself. We used a material typically used by continuous glucose monitors. When I took it off, I found that it was, in fact, like ripping off a bandaid.
Eliason-Carey: We explored lots of directions for these designs. The concepts kept shrinking as we went along—from the bulky machine to the armband to the wristband to the patch.
We also went through a lot of rapid prototyping. We played around with different architectures, examined different ways it could be worn on the body, and explored various design validations.
We knew we wanted to evolve from the big rolling pushcart with the inflatable cuff that gets slid on your arm. That thing checks you once and then that data is recorded as your true status. That is, no matter what happened before that day, that blood pressure reading represents you until the next time you go to the doctor.
Whelan: Who is your target user and what key benefits could they receive?
Derby: Patients who would benefit from Blumio devices include those with hypertension or are at risk of developing hypertension. Now, if you have an issue, the doctor can say, “Let’s monitor you for the next week and get to the bottom of it.”
Other users include patients admitted to the hospital. Getting continuous BP monitoring throughout a patient’s hospital stay could eventually become part of hospital protocol. Right now, it’s only available for patients in the ICU and performed invasively with a catheter in the artery. The designs we developed for Blumio are small enough to be used at home and medical grade enough to be used in a hospital setting.
Eliason-Carey: These wrist concepts were designed to be ignored. People can just put one on and resume their lifestyle without worrying it will lose effectiveness or become distracting. We didn’t want our concepts to look medical. We wanted them to be fun while supplying 100% accurate data.
Derby: With these concepts, you also won’t be able to trick the doctor anymore. They will know the real status of your blood pressure health because measurements are taken continuously.
Whelan: Care is clearly moving from the hospital to the home. What does the future look like for this space?
Eliason-Carey: Eventually, I think this type of technology will be designed as implants, or incorporated into other devices like phones. I think having realtime readings will save lives and improve lifestyles for years to come.
Derby: Exactly. Soon, we’ll have all these chips embedded into the smart watches we wear on a daily basis. You’ll be able to connect other bands to the watch, but the watch itself likely won’t monitor anything except your blood pressure and heart rate for the time being.
Many companies are chasing patient monitoring and healthcare in different ways, like using optical lasers for example to bring laboratory diagnostics to the wrist. In the end, it’s all chips and software getting miniaturized. I think the overall goal will remain the same for the time being: to have a band that monitors your health and sends data to your doctor at all times. Then that data can then be filtered and flagged for various conditions.
Derby: People have all sorts of other issues that affect their health, such as their weight or alcohol consumption. However, it’s not until someone sees that issue jeopardizing their lifestyle do they begin to change.
I think designs like these will allow people to become more aware of their overall health. Doctors will also have more data points to better care for their patients. Insurance companies could soon offer a chip to gather all health info, all the time.
Eliason-Carey: Some people might get a kick out of that, while others might feel nervous about being continuously monitored. All in all, I think we’re moving towards democratized healthcare.
Blumio is currently improving its technology and awaiting user trials and testing. Meanwhile, Whipsaw is continuing to develop design concepts for Blumio’s next generation of blood pressure wearables.