Colostomy surgeries are on the rise, and the procedures to heal from this are out of date, leading to a growing population suffering from mental illness as a direct result. A colostomy is a life-saving surgery and should not have to be a double-edged sword. The surgery solves chronic conditions such as colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Often times patients enter the hospital with some pains in their stomach and the next thing they know they wake up out of surgery going poop out of their belly into a cold, flimsy beige bag. Through interviews with patients, a nurse, and designers/marketing at Convatec (a current stoma bag company) and reading many stories, I have learned a lot about the scary process, and the insecure mental space that this procedure leaves many stuck in. The truth is that it is not the patient's problem, but rather a societal acceptance issue. In other words, this is a design to battle bad stigma around a necessary medical procedure.
In previous stoma bag designs, the user must measure their stoma (the part of the intestine that sticks out of the stomach and excretes waste), then trace that measurement onto a sticker, then cut that shape on, and then stick the bag on with no opportunity to take it off, adjust, or make any mistakes at all. When mistakes are made, leaks are imminent, an ostomates worst nightmare.
I started this design journey to redesign the way someone might measure their stoma, which led me to throw the idea of measurement out and introduce ways of using a diaphragm/aperture device. This would allow an enclosure around the stoma that is flexible, can grow and shrink with the stoma, and create a tight seal. After redesigning this 'connection system', I decided to reinvent the idea of the bag. I wanted to be as far away from the idea most have of a 'bag'; plasticy, flimsy, wrinkly, and puncturable. I finished with the "Biotec Bag", a 3 piece system, a sticker, an iris diaphragm, and a bag. While it is an extra part of current solutions it is as easy as one stick, and two clicks.
The BioTec Bag begins with the iris diaphragm, the part of my product that sets it apart from the rest. In the process of trying to measure the stoma, learned the stoma is ever-changing in size, especially six months post-op. This made it hard for any new time measurement to succeed. The solution needed to be able to live and breathe with the stoma. Therefore, I looked into apertures and diaphragms which lead me to these rubber diaphragms used to seal off clean rooms with pipes that go in and out of them. Also used in grain storage, this type of diaphragm can open and close at a very precise rate, it is easy to be cleaned, and it is made from a soft material. The technology is simple; when the two ends of a tube with a stretchy material are concentrically twisted in opposite directions, they create an iris diaphragm. When applied to stomas this acts as an artificial anus, which sounds like a joke until you don't have one. It is able to seal off the stoma opening from the rest of your belly and skin, preventing bad smell and skin irritation, two things that lead to bad confidence in public places. On top of sealing off the stoma, the diaphragm application can open and close when you need to give the skin around it some air, and it is easy to clean. This diaphragm is operated by the textured dial on the edge of the ring. Through having a range of sizes there is no human error involved, unlike previously when one had to measure with a ring and cut out the same shape. This is huge considering most of the users are ages 60 and up.
After designing a new connection system, I could not live with the dated bag technology. Current stoma bags are made of thin plastic, meant to be thrown away, use a fold-up tiny hose to be drained, and are a depressing beige color. My goal was to bring confidence to the user, and for me, that meant a bag that looked strong, modern, and foolproof. I want the user to be able to trust their technology so they can live their lives as normal people, not being crushed by the label of an ostomate. To add structure to the bag, I designed it inspired by rubber hiking water bottles that have extendable folds in them. The idea is that as the bag fills up it can extend one fold at a time, both allowing the user to see how full it is with the clear sections, and giving the user more time before they have to go to the restroom. Not only was this design functional, but the fold lines also act as cross-section lines, giving the illusion of more structure. Continuing on the motto of look good feel good, I have decided to color the system pink. The color pink is a bold statement, but it is also part of the challenge to break the stigma. Wearing the color pink is the first step towards change, and the technology of the bag comes next.
Another stand-out point of the Biotec Bag is the front window. It is an interchangeable stoma window for users to feel like they have the option to be confident in their bodies, as well as a new point of accessibility. Current solutions all view the stoma as something to be hidden, and I think that this adds to the stigma. Solutions should not be throwing fuel in the fire. For people who are not ready yet the window can be changed out for an opaque shield. The window was inspired by my own journey as someone who gets queasy fast when it comes to organs. Since I was studying how to measure a stoma, I had to examine many different types. While this was hard at first, it became much easier. By this same philosophy, I believe that we can normalize not hiding the stoma, and being open to questions if the user so intends.
Two more important features of the bag are the port on the top and the drainage system. A lot of user feedback included that people like to put scents in their bags and this usually happened through the excretion opening of the bag. I added a port for people to squirt in scents, flush out the bag, and rinse both the stoma and the window. Emptying the bag was a problem in my eyes since the beginning. I personally tested some current stoma bags and I found that 'going to the bathroom was extremely hard. The new design functions with a button keeping the user's fingers away from any hygiene concerns around the opening. This also takes away the process of folding the tip of the bag back up to close it as it closes with the release of the button.
The final level of the Biotec Bag is sustainability. I envision the user being able to own two or three sets in order to keep parts clean and in rotation. Currently, a user must not only live with a life-changing medical condition, stigma from the world, and the guilt that comes with throwing away multiple complicated pieces of plastic every week. In the bigger picture ostomates make quite a bit of extra waste, and there are no options to not do so. I would like the give the user the freedom to be sustainable and feel good about themselves.