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Medtronic’s smartphone-based programmer enhances patient experience for incontinence treatment Medtronic’s smartphone-based programmer enhances patient experience for incontinence treatment

Medtronic’s smartphone-based programmer enhances patient experience for incontinence treatment

Medtronic’s smartphone-based programmer enhances patient experience for incontinence treatment

Medical Equipment Manufacturing
Pelvic Health Programmer

Medtronic, a global healthcare solutions company, is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland and operates in 150+ countries. For nearly 60 years, the company’s mission has been to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life for people around the world. The company’s 86,000 employees look to that mission as an ethical framework and inspirational goal as they use medical technologies, services and solutions to meet the needs of patients and healthcare professionals.

Healthcare faces many challenges, and Medtronic believes that many of those challenges can be solved with technology. The company is committed to partnering with others to improve and transform millions of lives each year through the use of its medical devices.
Learn more about how Medtronic is transforming healthcare.


The Challenge:
Finding a Discreet, Consumer-Centric Way to Treat Pelvic Health Issues

About 37 million — or one in six(1,2) — American adults suffer from overactive bladder (OAB), while nearly 20 million experience fecal incontinence(3,4). A stigma exists around acknowledging these pelvic health issues. For more than 20 years, patients have been receiving symptom relief using the InterStim™ from Medtronic, but the company sought technology that would offer a discreet and user-friendly way to put control of the therapy in the patient’s hands.


“For people with untreated overactive bladder or fecal incontinence, their world gets smaller and smaller,” explains Jim Willenbring, senior director for digital health and patient operations at Medtronic. “Their life starts to center on knowing the exact location of each bathroom between home and every place they frequent — work, school, shopping centers, the gym.”


Without treatment, the lives of people with these conditions can become tethered to bathroom locations, with many not wanting to leave home at all, suffering in silence and isolation due to fear of embarrassment.

Finding a Discreet, Consumer-Centric Way to Treat Pelvic Health Issues

In the United States, there are 37 million people(1,2) suffering from overactive bladder, and up to 20 million(3,4) with fecal incontinence. For over 20 years, Medtronic has offered sacral neuromodulation (SNM) therapy. The InterStim™ device is small and fits in the palm of your hand. It is implanted in the patient near the upper buttock. The device is connected to a thin wire that stimulates the sacral nerve. The InterStim™ system addresses normalizing communication between the bladder, the bowel, and the brain.(5,6) For those who use the InterStim™ implant, 84 percent were satisfied with the therapy.7 Users also experience significant and sustained improvement in quality of life8 over those who use alternative treatments for—three times greater improvement in quality of life over those who use medications.9 That quality of life improvement means going to the bathroom less often and getting back to the activities they enjoy.


Despite the success of this therapy, a stigma exists around acknowledging these pelvic health issues. The InterStim™ device helps alleviate the symptoms associated with urinary and fecal incontinence. But Medtronic believed it could do more to help patients. Medtronic sought to provide more options to manage the implant in the hands of patients and to add a consumer-friendly management device that wouldn’t draw unwanted or unnecessary attention to the patient’s condition.

The Solution:
An App-Controlled Implant That Fits Seamlessly Into Patients' Lives

Medtronic wanted to replace its legacy patient programmer device, which had limited functionality and an obtrusive form factor, with user-friendly mobile devices that patients would be familiar with and would not draw attention to their condition. Through collaboration with Samsung, Medtronic developed a new InterStim™ smart programmer using a Galaxy smartphone and therapy applications. The smartphone is preloaded with Medtronic proprietary software applications that let patients discreetly manage their treatment. 


The goal with improving the InterStim™ system sprang from a desire to make it fit better into a patient’s daily life. Earlier versions of the patient programmer looked like a garage door opener or a pager. “Finding a more discreet device was a major attractor of working with Samsung. Through our work together, we could leverage their smartphones as a platform to give patients the ability to adjust their implanted devices,” says Willenbring.


“The Samsung mobile device loaded with proprietary software applications is called the smart programmer for the InterStim™ system,” explains Lindsey Hanson, senior product manager for Pelvic Health and Gastric Therapies at Medtronic. “The smart programmer phone comes preloaded with the My Therapy application that lets patients check their stimulation level, adjust stimulation provided by the implant, turn stimulation off or on, switch stimulation levels, and change programs.”


“When a patient uses the smart programmer to adjust the therapy, all you see is someone holding what looks to be a typical mobile device, something so ubiquitous that no one questions its use,” says Hanson.


The introduction of the Samsung device occurs during the patient evaluation of the InterStim™ system. The evaluation allows a patient to test the therapy before physically implanting the device in their body. Temporary lead wires are inserted near the patient’s sacral nerve and connected to an external nerve stimulator. That evaluation period lasts anywhere from three days to two weeks. The physician adjusts initial settings, and the patient uses the same platform during the evaluation period to manage the therapy. If the evaluation goes well, the InterStim™ device is implanted and the patient uses the smart programmer.

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“Patients can’t always anticipate when the symptoms of their condition will strike. There’s anxiety around getting caught in a bad and embarrassing situation,” says Hanson. “Not only does InterStim™ provide relief, but having the ability to control the treatment through the smart programmer offers them an extra layer of reassurance. The ability of the patient to manage their treatment is an important piece of therapy delivery.”


One patient’s story


Kirstie, an InterStim™ patient, had struggled with fecal incontinence for over 10 years before receiving sacral neuromodulation.

After receiving the InterStim™ implant, Kirstie has been able to gain back her quality of life. “The smart programmer has been so easy to use,” she explains. “With the guidance of my doctors, I am using the device to both change the programs and the amplitude settings within each program to find an optimal setting for my treatment.”

“[InterStim™ has] been a godsend. It allows me to start living my life again, get out of the house more, go out to dinner with my family.”