20081227-the-goals4Since our coverage of the Embrace incubator alternative in 2009, the Embrace Infant Warmer has seen a complete redesign, organized with a new business structure, made some new alliances, and won a few more awards. Here, we’ll focus on the redesign and the business alliance with GE Healthcare.

Adapting to user needs
The original Embrace bag was electricity-independent and used button closures to ensure easy repair for extended lifespan. Today, we see a three-part system with strap closures, new materials and construction, a clear window, an electric heating unit, and a higher-tech wax pouch.

Three iterations of the Embrace Infant Warmer design. Shortly after the originating Stanford class; during refinement; the market-ready final product.

In market, the infant warmer is branded the Embrace Thermpod. The sleeping bag-like portion, called BabyWrap, incorporates the most input from user interviews. The team selected adjustable straps for closure to enable caregivers to improve fit for a variety of infants and prevent the babies from slipping around. Since many of the intended babies wouldn’t be wearing diapers, the material for the wrap needed to be waterproof, bacteria-resistant, and easy to clean. The hood portion of the bag was revised for a better fit around the infant’s face to avoid the risk of suffocation. During the critical period of care for these infants, caregivers need a way to monitor the baby’s breath and skin color, so adding a window and openings for IV tubes increased the probability that the infant would be kept inside the warmer rather than removed and left out for constant observation.

The electric heating unit, called AccuTemp Heater, gives clinics smarter management of their resources. The last thing medical staff want to do is have to keep track of which warmers are ready to use and which need to be reheated. The AccuTemp Heater only requires 25 minutes of electricity to heat a WarmPak, which will maintain the correct temperature for 4-6 hours. If the WarmPak is left in the heater, it has features that will prevent overheating. Since electricity can be unreliable in developing regions, the heater will resume heating if interrupted by a power outage without needing to be manually activated.

Even the WarmPak, originally a simple pouch containing the wax-like material, has design features. Initially, the team wanted to provide a temperature indicator to let users know if the temperature was appropriate for warming infants. However, cultural differences revealed a mistrust of numbers so the indicator was simplified to a two-state display that only shows ready or not ready indicators.

GE increases market access for Embrace
In a parallel mission, GE launched the Healthymagination shared value initiative in 2009 to innovate solutions to severe health issues, including the MDG challenge of infant mortality. The R&D team spent months revising its existing Lullaby® incubator product line down to 10% of its developed market price. However, at $2,000 and with a requirement for steady electric power supply, it was still out of reach for India’s rural communities where insufficient heating resources threaten the survival of low-birth-weight babies.

With an independent design thinking process, Embrace Global met extreme affordability needs at $200 – only 1% the price of a typical incubator. However, as a small and new organization it faced challenges with access to the market and scaling distribution.

With a shared value partnership, GE can fulfill its commitment to dramatically improve healthcare in disadvantaged communities and Embrace can realize its potential for impact.

Additional Resources

Sources for design insights: Stanford GSB Alumni Magazine, Refine My Line challenge, Embrace Thermpod website

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