Open source design for affordable health care

Birth control: An open design concept

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The future of women’s health—and the health of all U.S. citizens, for that matter—has been in the spotlight lately. Health care regulation is an important issue to both President Obama and health care organizations like Planned Parenthood—both of whom argue that it’s critical to pass laws ensuring access to affordable contraception for all women, couples, and families.

Though the Supreme Court recently upheld the Affordable Care Act, requiring many insurance plans to fully cover contraception without co-pays or deductibles as part of women's preventive care, there are many who do not support the healthcare plan. So, because federal laws must be voted in (and can subsequently be voted out, as political winds shift and public opinions change), finding alternative solutions for affordable contraception may require a different approach.

Ronen Kadushin, an Israeli designer and proponent of "open design," has developed plans for a low-cost contraceptive, an intrauterine device (IUD) that he believes could provide such an opportunity for many interested in family planning. He discusses his philosposy behind open source product design:

Producers, with the power to control all aspects of a product, are the gatekeepers of design creativity, deciding what and how products are available to consumers. This situation begins in Industrial design education systems that train designers to integrate into an industrial production scenario and accept that producers have the right to regulate design and indoctrinate their set of values and ends. Fresh approaches and radical views are marginalized as they do not conform with the dogmas of the Church of Industrial Design. But other creative fields that found their products in phase with the realities of the Internet and information technology (fields such as music, communication design, animation photography, text, etc.) are experiencing an unprecedented flood of freely available creative content. 

Kadushin further explains that because pharmaceutical and biotech companies hold proprietary rights for the only available forms of contraception on the market, most are too expensive for people without insurance or for those whose health care plans don't cover contraceptive drugs and devices. Plus, the only two FDA approved IUDs available on the U.S. market, ParaGard™ ($784) and Mirena™ ($843), have upfront costs that are much more expensive than other options (like "the pill") despite being less expensive than any other option over time.

The IUD has had a tough past, but many health care experts say it’s becoming increasingly popular for women of all ages. If demand continues to rise (as industry leaders like Victoria Hale, CEO of Medicines 360, believe it will) Kadushin says it's an ideal time for a networked community or forward-thinking pharmaceutical company to use open source principles to create a functional, open design IUD. And the use of production methods like 3-D printing could additionally help to drive down costs.

Even though the device isn't ready for medical use, Kadushin has posted conceptual designs for the Bearina IUD online.


About the author

Jen Wike Huger - Jen Wike Huger is the Community Manager for Catch her at the next open source virtual event, or ping her on Twitter. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.