The true value of human-centered research within medical technology

Hollie Johnston, director and human sciences capacity lead at PDD, breaks down the details of human-centered design (HCD), explaining how it can improve the patient experience, address gaps in healthcare innovation and eliminate the systemic bias.

With recent statistics suggesting that 70% of all projects fail, it is vital that we do everything we can to set ourselves up for success when undertaking new product design or development. Every day we are surrounded by products and services that do not work as expected. Whether it’s a difficult-to-follow set of instructions for a new medical device or a convoluted configuration process, people are constantly forced to develop workarounds to make up for poor design.

The practice of human-centered design (HCD) was created to combat these issues and is now widely recognized as a tool for creating products and experiences that work for their intended end-users and impact their lives in meaningful ways. positive.

However, despite the acceleration of HCD and the broader general understanding of its benefits, trying to fully understand what people really need remains a challenge, especially when exploring something that didn’t exist before, and it’s possible that the end user does not know what are missing

Actions speak louder than words

While market research techniques can help us explore a defined market segment or identify who might use a new product or service, it rarely works when evaluating innovation and realistic end-user implementation, especially in the customer service space. medical.

Asking people for their opinion on something they use on a daily basis does not usually generate revealing results. Asking them about something they have never seen or experienced in real life presents even greater limitations.

When you ask someone what they need or how a product or service can be improved, they may talk about microchanges, something small that they want., or what they think they want. People often find it hard to express what they really need, either because they can’t imagine doing anything different than the current “norm”, or because they accept a product failure as something they have to live with to help with. Your condition. Through no fault of their own, most people lack the technical knowledge, insight, and foresight to come up with revolutionary concepts and better product solutions.

With this, we need to go beyond questions and look at and explore how people interact with the product or experience in a real-world setting. We need to look not only at how people use that product or service, and the specific challenges patients might need to address, but also at the environment around them and how the product might fit into their lives. Only in this way can we see what has not been said, get into the skin of users and identify what they really need.

Human-centered design, or design research, opens up levels of empathy to help us understand how people can interact with what doesn’t yet exist. Instead of surveys or focus groups, we use observations, ethnography, cultural safaris, and a variety of other tools to piece together a detailed, human-centric picture of the end user, viewing each patient as a human being rather than a statistic. Instead of relying solely on what people say, we use the tools of anthropology, psychology, and sociology to understand why people behave the way they do. This allows us to get to the bottom of your unmet needs, define challenges to solve, and lay out paths for improvements and a better user experience.

Design Research focuses on why, giving us real information about who users really are, what they do and why and how they do it. This is where the opportunities for innovation lie.

set up for success

The success of human-centered design is highly dependent on the tools you use and is a highly nuanced endeavor in which emotional and cognitive elements are equally important.

For example, when doing research in the medical industry, you may end up talking to someone who has been through something very emotional or traumatic, which has a significant impact on their lives. In those cases, you need to have a deep understanding of how best to listen and empathize, while continuing to guide the investigation to ensure goals are met and useful insights are uncovered to inform future design.

Alternatively, you could connect with someone whose condition has resulted in significant physical or cognitive impairment. In these circumstances, you need to choose the right tools to meet the research objectives, but also to ensure that the methodologies do not influence or bias the results. Just like in physics, the ‘Observer Effect’, the disturbance of an observed system by the act of observation, is something we need to consider and minimize as much as possible in design research.

Flexibility is also key, particularly in the early stages of the investigation. Being too prescriptive in the methodologies you use and the direction of the dialogue risks missing crucial information and results in a limited or segmented picture of potential opportunities. While it is important to have broad objectives for the research, following a flexible approach allows for greater spontaneity and the potential to tailor the interaction between the team conducting the research and the research subject. In these circumstances, although the dialogue is guided by a predefined script, it allows the facilitator to capture interesting threads of information or observations that arise naturally throughout the research session.

In research, it is important to select the right tools; but selecting the right respondents is also key to ensuring holistic findings. An important component of successful research activities is the identification of interested parties; those with a direct interest in the product, system or service you are developing, from patients themselves to family, friends and colleagues.

look back to move forward

As the Human Sciences team leader at PDD, my background is in design and engineering, with our entire Human Sciences team a cross-section of talent with designers, psychologists, ergonomists and more.

This wide and diverse experience gives us a clear vision of what lies ahead in the development process. We understand patients and their needs, but also the many challenges innovators face in turning ideas into reality, from the constraints of a manufacturing process to the nuances of building digital interactions. At PDD, we tailor our research to produce the best results and ensure the results are always actionable, with insights our clients can use to drive impactful, real-world innovation.

Also, as we go through the development process, we continue to look back. We review the data to see how things fit together, identify where users are struggling, and frame the most appropriate areas of opportunity. And we never lose sight of users to ensure that the products and services we create can generate the impact in the market that we were looking for.

Building trust in a time of change

In a world where people have ever higher expectations of what a product and service should do for them, and the right for a medical device to work efficiently and in a way that suits their daily lives, being rigorous and having a clear understanding of people’s needs. needs and aspirations is more important than ever.

Innovation requires significant investment, both in terms of time and money, and only by developing experiences that truly address people’s needs can organizations gain competitive advantage. In addition, they can also get a better return on their investment and stand out as drivers of change in the medical industry and more widely.

Any piece of research should always offer real-world value. Important questions for us to consider include how targeted research enables new opportunities, how we can act on the results, and how our work will benefit our clients, our organizations, and our societies.

As designers, innovators, and creators, we must never stop asking ourselves these important questions. Ultimately, the research is there to give us and our customers confidence, the confidence that comes from knowing that a new product or experience will have a significant and lasting impact on people’s lives, providing value and a better quality of life. .

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