Applying Human Centered Design to Medical Technology Development


Applying Human-Centered Design to Medical Technology Development

January 20, 2015
by Allison Ryder

applycing HCD MDG-Forum

On Wednesday, January 9, Continuum co-championed Boston’s Medical Development Group’s Forum “Making Medical Technology More Human.” With a deep expertise in medical device technology and holistic patient experience design that rely on putting people at the center of our work, the topic of this panel discussion was well-aligned with Continuum’s work and philosophy.

To kick off, Michael Wiklund, general manager at UL-Wiklund R&D and professor in human factors at Tufts University led with an overview of the landscape. In his estimation, developers of medical technology lag behind in innovation because the regulatory environment in which they work requires more checks and balances and formal approvals to move products forward.

Innovation does happen in this space, however; Wiklund cited a skin-colored insulin pump, designed to blend in with skin to be more subtle, and batteries shaped for hearing aids so they could more easily be inserted into those devices as two recent examples.

Wiklund left the audience with a framework to assess medical technology through a human factors lens: It’s important that these products and services be usable, affordable, accessible, comfortable, compatible, and emotional.

Next, the audience heard from Jeff Gerlach, UX envisioner on the product and experience team at Zipcar. His talk, Storytelling and Goal-Oriented Design, focused on how to use storytelling techniques to move from a user-centered design model to one that is goal-oriented and can therefore deliver more business value.

This approach to design is based on a deep understanding of the user. Knowing what she is aiming to do with your product or service and figuring out how you can meet that person where she is will benefit everyone involved. It can make sense to do primary (in-person interviews or contextual inquiry) and secondary (watching patient video diaries, for example) research on subjects to gain empathy and to understand the story behind their situations. Narrative frameworks like journey maps, scripts, and storyboards can then be used to envision experiences aligned with what will benefit these people most—and when an end user is seeing value, he will be more likely to buy in to what you are offering.

Stories also bring people together, uniting them around a common example or scenario, and engaging them with a topic. This point was illustrated perfectly by Rosalind Picard, founder, professor, and director of the Affective Computer Research Group at the MIT Media Lab, who stepped up to the podium to speak next.

Picard opened her talk asking the audience to raise a hand if they’ve ever planned an event for a close friend or family member, then recounted the chain of events that took place one day when she brought her son to Six Flags for his birthday. As a professor and researcher thinking about sensors and wearable technology, she was wearing 4 skin-conduction sensors that day to track her emotional responses to stimuli that day. The surprising finding? Her emotional arousal level was highest on her way out of her home on the way to the park, not at a more expected time, such as riding a roller coaster. Picard did not expect to be so affected by the stress associated with the planning and the day of the birthday event, and technology gave her new insight into her physiological responses.

The technology Picard and her team have been developing is designed to understand emotion, which could be useful to track customer engagement and experience, and has also showed medical utility, as it appears to be predictive in occupational therapy settings and may detect grand maul seizures, a symptom of chronic condition epilepsy.

Most recently, Picard has led the development of Embrace, a technology designed to be worn on the wrist. The device is currently undergoing review by the FDA to be officially classified as a predictor of seizures. It will observe abnormal arousal activity and then vibrate bands worn by family or friends nearby, and can send cell phone alerts to subscribers connected to the user.

Picard’s two main takeaways about developing more human medically-focused technology are to be data-driven in your approach to assess your market, then ensure that you are developing something that will serve what people want and need.

Medical products may never be quick to market, but approaching their development from a design thinking perspective, including using a story-driven approach to development, can ensure they are aligned with what users want and need, which will in turn drive business success.

Image by Army Medicine//CC by 2.0

filed in: healthcare, human factors

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