At the beginning of September 2020 I attended the online forum “Digital Health and COVID-19: How COVID is Accelerating Home Use Devices” hosted by the Medical Development Group of Boston. Below are four interesting takeaways:
Alex Therrien, Director of User Centered Design at Sunrise Labs, reminded us that as medical devices shift from the clinical setting to the home setting the users of the devices also shift, and home users differ greatly from clinical users. Home users such as patients and caregivers may lack uniform training and experience with devices and may not have more than a 6th grade reading level. Home users also may assume that medical devices are infallible therefore any error messages are coming directly from their clinician. This should be considered when determining user profiles for a new device because it greatly impacts the terminology chosen, the messages sent, and the training and documentation provided to users.
While home users may have little or no experience with connected medical devices, most do have experience with consumer technology such as smart phones, computers, and tablets. Alex discussed how home users are already familiar with technology that provides a connected experience, so they expect medical devices also to become an integrated part of their lives rather than an additional burden. When designed well, a connected medical device encourages adoption and compliance.
Panelist Shanthi Ramakrishnan, CEO of eDevice, presented a framework for effectively transferring data from in-home devices to the appropriate clinician in the desired format. Her company considers how medical devices collect and process data, the desired format for review and analysis, and who is responsible for that analysis. Automatic data processing is imperative, otherwise the clinician becomes burdened by the amount and format of the data and may stop providing devices to patients. It is crucial to keep in mind both the home user who needs a simple device and the clinical user who needs streamlined information for decision-making.
Carlos Castro-Gonzalez is the CEO and developer at Leuko and gave an example of a clinical test that has been adapted for home use. He saw the need for an at-home white blood cell counting device when he learned that patients receiving chemotherapy experience dangerously low white blood cell counts about half way between treatments. Patients were not aware of the critically low count which put them at higher risk for hospitalization, lower quality of life, and developing a life-threatening infection. With Leuko, patients can monitor their own white blood cell counts non-invasively, allowing them to take accountability of their health from the comfort of their home. Devices like this are becoming even more valuable as in-clinic visits are reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thank you to Jeffrey Karg of MDG Boston for moderating the session and to the panelists for providing insights on designing home use medical devices urgently needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.