PATH uses design thinking to improve local health care worldwide

Avatar Tim Walker March 9, 2017

4 min read

In 1977, three experts in reproductive health founded the organization that became PATH, an international nonprofit organization that is the leader in global health innovation. Today, PATH saves lives and improves health, especially among women and children, in more than 70 countries. PATH’s product development shop in Seattle supports initiatives in five platforms: vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations.


Recently we had a chance to talk with Mike Eisenstein, PATH’s product development shop manager, about the role of design thinking at PATH—and how they’re using Fusion 360.



End-to-end product development for maximum impact

Eisenstein describes his workplace as “a full, hands-on R&D shop” that is successful because of its “amazing team.” While the group can assist with any of PATH’s initiatives, in practice, “most of our work is with devices.”


For Eisenstein and his colleagues, product development is “not just a heads-down technical problem.” PATH takes a holistic approach to innovation—it is a team effort that combines technical development, commercialization, and public health expertise for sustainable impact.


“We want to get to impact,” Eisenstein says. He takes pride in the organization’s track record of helping to create “appropriate, sustainable products that are in use around the globe.”


Working with partners at home and abroad to deliver better health

PATH has 1,500 employees and 45 offices spread throughout the world and works with hundreds of partners to increase the reach of its work. In Seattle, the shop team often collaborates with engineers, scientists, and clinicians from countries around the world and local partners like the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital.


RELI1To ensure health innovations reach the people in low-resource regions who need them, PATH collaborates with public health officials, manufacturers, and distributors. That means coming up with locally appropriate solutions, such as PATH’s reusable, electricity-free, low-cost infusion pump (RELI Delivery System), which operates pneumatically using an ordinary bike pump; a few minutes of pumping allows the device to deliver lifesaving medications for hours.


In terms of increasing effectiveness across the life cycle of a product, Eisenstein says, “We’re [always] looking for those appropriate, sustainable partners.” The benefits of that approach are ongoing. For instance, “If something’s being made locally, it can usually be maintained locally.”


Designing locally appropriate technologies

Eisenstein says that design thinking is crucial for the work they do. PATH and their development partners always focus on the people for whom they’re designing the products, whether that means a health care worker, a mom, a child, or the local ministry of health.


That means a lot of travel for the PATH team, plus a lot of time spent bringing people and ideas together. “The goal isn’t just to solve the problem,” he says, “but to account for human factors and local constraints to solve it in an elegant way.” It requires paying attention to factors ranging from cost to the availability of electricity to the wording and colors used on product packaging. Whenever possible, they also want to adapt their products to work within existing systems.


For instance, right now PATH is working on a reusable infusion device that can be used to deliver medicines, fluids, and nutrition to patients. The need for the device was brought to light by a doctor working in Rwanda and an anesthesiologist. By collaborating with these physicians and other local users, the PATH team is refining a prototype that is powered by air pressure (it is charged by operating a bike pump) and that uses no expensive proprietary disposables.


Using Fusion 360 in the product development shop

Even though Eisenstein studied anthropology and art history in college, he says, “Machines have always talked to me.” He explains that “I grew up in a family of engineers. There was probably nothing we didn’t fix or build.”


PATH5That background serves him well in the hands-on environment of the shop, which is equipped to carry out all aspects of product development, even including testing for durability and resistance to humidity.


Lately the team has used Fusion 360 for more and more of their work. Eisenstein notes that it’s especially useful “having software that works the way we work,” because Fusion 360 is so good for quick iterations during product development.


Given that the shop uses its own CNC mills and lathes, he also loves Fusion 360’s CAM side, especially what he calls the “intuitiveness” of the cutting features. He says that the team is also building out their capacities in utilizing 3D printing for prototyping parts. (Fusion 360 helps with that, too.)


Taking Fusion 360 to the field

“We are excited to take the software to the field,” Eisenstein said. Because it’s cloud-based, Eisenstein can easily open up his laptop when he’s sitting with a development partner in Rwanda “showing the CAD of what we’re trying to do.” That directly supports PATH’s approach of designing not just for but with the end user. “That type of feedback is so valuable,” he says.


Going forward, he expects the “empowering” accessibility and seamlessness of Fusion 360 to promote even more involvement from local partners and end users. For instance, he would like to see PATH’s partners in places like Uganda or Rwanda using the software to work directly with the PATH shop during the design process.


“Product development is complex,” he adds. “It’s iterative. It takes time.” But Fusion 360 is helping improve PATH’s product development collaborations as the organization works with partners to create appropriate, sustainable products.


Eisenstein sums it up by saying, “The ability of it to work as a global tool, that’s what I’m excited for.”

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