In 2015, collaboration between the Hills Health Solutions and the Industrial Design Program at the University of South Australia led to the development of a life-saving nurse call-device for residential aged-care.
Aged-care residents who have arthritis, can find it difficult to hold and activate current nurse-call devices that require them to use their thumb to push a small button. Hills Health Solutions identified a gap in the healthcare market for a nurse-call device that could be used easily by people with arthritis and other forms of limited manual dexterity. To develop a new product, the company reached out to the Industrial Design Program at the University of South Australia.
The Arthritis Nurse Call Project aided in the design and development of a radically new solution to the usability problem, which has since gone into mass production and has subsequently won national and international design and innovation awards and has been exhibited both nationally and internationally.
Success Factors and Barriers
Working within the University environment provided a large knowledge base to draw upon. This allowed the project team to quickly access experts in areas of health, who in turn, provided important connections to professionals in the aged-care field. The availability of motivated, talented staff and design graduates played an important role, whereby, the graduates were selected by staff based on their suitability for the project.
It was critically important that the University of South Australia strongly encourages and supports staff and student engagement in industry-based projects, and provides the necessary business resources to support collaboration. On the other side, it helped that the industry partner was eager and willing to embrace innovation and take calculated risks.
Availability of funding from the government and industry to support the initiative and the availability of product development resources including prototyping facilities, design and development software and a stimulating work environment was crucial in the process. The ready access to a multi-material Polyjet 3D printer was instrumental, as it enabled multiple iterations of the device to be developed, built and evaluated quickly.
Recent Developments and Future Plans
The innovative nurse-call device was successfully launched into the market in July 2015. Since then it has subsequently won a variety of national and international design and innovation awards and has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Among them are:
- Winner of the 2015 SA/NT Design Institute of Australia, Premier’s Award.
- Winner of the 2015 SA/NT Design Institute of Australia, President’s Award.
- Winner of the 2015 SA/NT Design Institute of Australia, Gold Award.
- Winner of the 2016 Good Design Award/Product Design – International Design Award.
- Winner of the 2016 Red Dot Design Award/Product Design – International Design and Innovation Award.
- Featured in the “Red Dot Design Exhibition” at the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen, Germany, 2016.
- Featured in the “World’s Best Design Exhibition”, in Seoul, South Korea, 2016.
The Arthritis Nurse Call Project generated patentable Intellectual Property and the graduates, who were involved in the project have since gone on to be employed by innovative companies such as ResMed in Sydney and Direct Edge Manufacturing in Tasmania. This pilot project was also the basis for the development of a new, flexible and efficient engagement model, for the University of South Australia’s Industrial Design program to work with external partners – the Industrial Design Incubator (IDI).
Trends and Challenges
Certainly the biggest challenge for all universities in Australia, is to truly value the benefits flowing from collaborative innovation, as opposed to more traditional ERA (Excellence in Research) based research activities, and to fully recognize and reward these activities. ERA is Australia’s national research evaluation framework, which identifies and promotes excellence in research activity in Australia’s higher education institutions.
Arthritis Nurse Call Project at 2017 Asia-Pacific University-Industry Engagement Conference
The Arthritis Nurse Call Project, a unique engagement model in South Australia, was presented as a good practice case study at the 2017 Asia-Pacific University Industry Engagement Conference in Adelaide, Australia, by Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Walker from Flinders University and Dr. Peter Schumacher from the University of South Australia, and you can access their conference presentation here