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by Olga Passet
Any company wants their customers to covet and love their products or services because this is the way to becoming the market leader. But for products used by healthcare professionals (HCPs) in a clinical setting, usability is traditionally associated with safety. With so many regulations to meet, delighting the user usually comes way down the list of priorities.
Human factors and usability engineering is a process to mitigate the risks which occur when products are used. It has been required for regulatory approval for more than 10 years now. If companies cannot prove their products are safe to use, then they won’t be approved. However, whilst safety is a basic requirement, we believe it is important to think more broadly.
In recent years, the quality of consumer products has improved exponentially. Thanks to the magnificent work of usability gurus and user experience (UX) evangelists, UX has become an integral component of innovation and product development. People’s expectations are constantly updating in an ever-upwards trajectory.
Think just for a moment about where you work. I bet you use loads of tools that are lacking in ‘user friendliness’ compared with the gadgets you have at home. I imagine you are truly thankful when you discover something that seamlessly integrates into your working day and supports your every requirement as if by magic. Something that saves you time and that you enjoy using!
It’s no different for the equipment used by our increasingly busy HCPs. Whilst they rarely choose the equipment they use, they should be considered as ‘consumers’ nonetheless.
Consider ‘Nurse Sarah’, working very long hours in a high-pressure environment such as A&E, she’s often very tired and has huge demands on her time and skills. Why should she be expected to use monotone grey-cream equipment, with dot-matrix displays from 20 years ago, spending time scrolling through menus to find the correct setting, fighting through complex instruction manuals to find out how to operate it? Often equipment design just impedes and frustrates, leading to all sorts of ‘workarounds’. The risk of user error with such unintuitive devices is huge when time is at a premium.
Yet we expect ‘Nurse Sarah’ to be there to make us better and perhaps to save our lives. So why are so many medical devices designed without her needs in mind?
When we are asked to develop any type of medical device, we always take a user-centric approach – regardless of the category of end user – because we believe it is essential to look at the whole user journey, in the same way we would do for a consumer product. This helps us identify how a job is currently being carried out and uncover the potential opportunities for improvement, be it packaging, design, functionality, instructions for use or the user interface. We do this with a multidisciplinary team, drawing from front-end-innovation experts, HCPs, mechanical, electronic, software and human factors engineers, medical researchers and product designers. They create a shared understanding of users and stakeholders, their requirements and their challenges, as well as the use environments. This empathy then informs every facet of the development process.
Designing for the HCP user as a ‘consumer’ is not at the cost of safety – indeed, a better user experience and improved safety go hand in hand.
So next time you set about designing a new medical device, please remember that ‘Nurse Sarah’ is your ‘consumer’. Make her a product that is not only safe but intuitive and rewarding to use. She will not only love you for it, she’ll be your product’s greatest advocate.
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