Medical Device Design: 4 Ways Designers Can Create Medical Devices That Work for Everyone


Stuart Karten, Founder/President, Karten Design

Medical device design has been going through sweeping
changes over the last decade.  Ten years ago,
medical device companies weren’t concerned with delivering consumer-level
design: Devices that are both attractive and intuitively easy to use by a wide
variety of users.  Then the Affordable Care
Act
was passed, and adherence and healthy behavior change became a
regulatory requirement.  

Our firm, which has been a long-time proponent of the
“consumerization” of medical product design, saw a steady uptick in business
based on our ability to deliver product experiences that a consumer expects
while also meeting regulatory requirements of the FDA.  And yet we still had to do a fair amount of
convincing to engineering teams about the importance of design that not only
works for physicians, but also makes life easier for caregivers and
patients. 

Our goal has always been to make design a priority for and
deliver great experiences to every voice in the ecosystem.  As tragic as COVID-19 has
been for millions of people, it has accelerated the consumerization of medical
device design:  the pandemic has
radically changed medical products for the better, forever. 

In the last six months, we have had many traditional device
companies and startups approach us to design COVID-19 testing products.  They want clinically effective medical
devices that are as easy to use as at-home pregnancy tests.  Companies are also coming to us with
non-COVID medical device ideas, and even the conversations around those
products have changed:  there is a
realization that medical devices must address a multi-layered audience. 

While all medical products must integrate the emotional,
physical and cognitive needs of the health consumer to create a holistic
experience, to really achieve consumer-level design companies need to go well
beyond human factors and useability studies and truly push the design
boundaries.  Medical device companies
that can’t integrate these four elements into their medical products are not
making scalable products, and will underachieve in today’s marketplace:

1. Improve Convenience:  Consumers today are accustomed to
convenience. We expect the world to operate at the speed of a Google search,
with the customizability of meal planning on sites like Plated or Blue Apron,
and the responsiveness of booking a ride on Uber. Healthcare rarely works this
way so a medical device must integrate it into the design.  In the medical world, the laws of consumer
design also apply:  with Axonics
Modulation Technology system, we
transformed
an innovative technology into a complete ecosystem of physical
and digital products that improve the experience and work hard in the background
to return normal daily lives to people suffering from incontinence.

2. Aim to Delight: 
Creating delight can transform an experience and build relationships
that keep customers engaged with your brand. 
Most medical solution providers look at users in terms of physical and
cognitive usability. But this is only the beginning. We believe there are four
additional dimensions that will help companies develop a qualitative
understanding of health consumers and their motivations—emotional, social,
contextual, and developmental. Exploring these dimensions at the front end of
the product development process will reveal what patients need and desire from
a health experience and enable companies to respond with meaningful innovation
that gains adoption and changes health outcomes.  We use these motivations to create delight in
the medical device.

3. Provide Personalized Experiences: Personalization
is a growing trend in the consumer product world, and it needs to become one in
healthcare. Those at the forefront are using data to make predictions that
anticipate customers’ needs and desires. Entertainment platforms, like Netflix,
make recommendations that introduce users to new content based on their
previous consumption. Virgin America’s in-flight screens address their
passengers by name and provide personalized information about their itinerary,
in addition to personalized dining and entertainment recommendations. In
healthcare, targeted, personal experiences can be a tipping point to meaningful
behavior change. Information has the power to engage health consumers in
moments where their decisions have a direct impact on their health and
wellbeing. With a majority of people carrying or wearing smart devices, it’s
possible to have continuous data about their location. This data can be used to
generate relevant, real-time recommendations. 
With COVID-19 or any future pandemic, real-time information can save
countless lives.

4. Be Emotional: 
The goal of consumer-driven product innovation is to create an emotional
connection between users and brands—a delightful experience or perception that
keeps people coming back. This is an important goal in healthcare as well, as
more complex factors start to influence choice, and continued engagement plays
a growing role in health outcomes. Although the medical product development
process is more burdened by engineering, technology, and regulation, medical
solution providers can adopt some best practices from consumer companies to
help their products connect. Consumer giants apply numerous resources toward
developing a deep understanding of their user. To capture health consumers’
interest and loyalty, it’s necessary for medical device makers to develop a
knowledge that goes deeper than a medical record or hospital survey. This
holistic understanding of consumers and their health journeys will breed
empathy—something that only comes from first-hand emotional transactions—and
help companies uncover many opportunities for meaningful innovation and
differentiation.


About Stuart Karten

Stuart Karten is the principal of Karten Design, a
product innovation consultancy creating positive experiences between people and
products specializing in health technology. 


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