This Tiny Piece of Tech is Transforming Maternity Care in Rural Australia

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Talk about birthing brilliance.

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Growing a baby, while wonderful, isn’t easy. And for expectant mothers living in rural Australia, a lack of access to high-quality, personalised healthcare can make things difficult – especially as, over the last 15 years, more than half of the country’s rural maternity units have shut their doors – presenting a challenge that former industrial design student Sarah Heimeier ambitiously accepted at the ripe age of 22. Her solution? Jana – a piece of wearable technology that monitors mum’s glucose levels and blood pressure and relays data to health professionals, allowing common prenatal problems pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes to be treated at a distance, via an app, by which patients can communicate with their doctors and vice-versa.
“Anything out of the ordinary can instantly be detected and attended to, and if everything’s going well, there’s no need to continuously visit the doctor,” says Sarah, who bagged the Australian James Dyson Award for this beauty. “It reduces the strain on the health system, and on the patients.”

Here’s how Sarah came to create such an important piece of tech.

My mum’s a nurse and we live rurally, so [access to healthcare] is an issue that I’ve not only been surrounded by, but have heard a lot about. My sister’s best friend had complications with her pregnancy that could have been avoided – but it’s hard when you live out in the country. It’s a big systemic problem that our health system doesn’t currently address, so when I realised I could solve this problem through design, I had to do it.

I come from an industrial design background, and I’m particularly passionate about generating ideas which can be developed into real experiences. Design always appealed to me because I like to think of myself as a problem solver, creator, thinker, maker and innovator – and design lets me bundle all of those things up into one role, which is awesome. After studying industrial design at university I was lucky enough to get to work as the designer for a start-up, then moved onto another company where I worked on CAD modelling for installations, sculptures and building fittings.

I conducted a lot of research before designing Jana, including interviewing mothers, doctors and nurses, investigating technology, and looking into pregnancy and the way care is currently provided. Once I’d analysed the research, I developed a product scenario which helped define integral aspects of the design – the mobile app, the device, and how the mother and doctor interacted throughout the mother’s pregnancy in relation to her healthcare. Sketching, creating prototypes and iterating on the designs all helped to develop Jana.

One of the biggest challenges was ensuring that I truly understood the experience of pregnancy – especially for women with gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia in rural areas. If you want to come up with a great design, you have to really and thoroughly understand the underlying needs and problems that you’re solving. The answer to that was doing a prodigious amount of research, and then going back and testing those ideas, iterating, and repeating that cycle again and again. I wanted to make sure I was providing the right solution, and creating the right experience.

I’m now working as a Design Researcher at Atlassian, where I get to delve into how our customers interact with our products, and the reasons why they make various decisions. Along the way, I’ve had my work exhibited in Vivid Sydney in the Good Design Pods, I’ve been a finalist for the NewStar Design awards and the Hills Young awards, and I’ve previously won the James Dyson Award for Australia. In my private time, I’ve continued to work on Jana because I think it can have such a huge impact on women, and it’s something I’m passionate about seeing through.

Winning the James Dyson Award meant that I could conduct further research and engage a patent attorney to help guide the project. The prospects of Jana are very exciting! I’ve now reached a point where I’m looking to collaborate with others to move the development to the next stage. I’m currently welcoming expressions of interests from manufacturers, technologists, investors, and other suitable collaborators to partner with me in the next stages of the development journey – so if you know anyone good, send them my way!

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