Device Design Considerations for At-Home Use

October 3, 2012

By Jessica Willing-Pichs, Senior Research and Product Strategist

The shift of healthcare device use from clinical settings to patient homes presents interesting and complex opportunities for medical device manufacturers. Devices now need to be designed for a diverse user group, with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities, with limited training and installation assistance. Within this varied set of home users, there are parents caring for young children, seniors, recently hospital-discharged, post-surgical patients, individuals suffering from co-morbidities and the terminally ill, as well as clinically trained visiting nurses and case managers.

A device may be prescribed and demonstrated in a clinical setting and then arrive in a box on the new user’s doorstep along with instruction manuals, quick start guides and perhaps a dizzying array of accompanying disposable supplies. Or a caregiver may be assigned to purchase the equipment from an unfamiliar medical supply store and bring it home themselves.

Ximedica developed the user-friendly Zeo® Sleep Manager™, an at-home sleep aid device.

Set up steps, use flow, storage, cleaning, recharging and disposal processes will differ dramatically from hospital systems as lay users rarely rely on written instructions, follow protocols or scheduled routines. Room must be made for the device in the home. Environmental considerations such as low level lightning, accessibility to grounded power outlets, tripping hazards, ventilation, bulky and heavy furniture, limited space, cluttered surfaces generate installation challenges. The chances of a device being dropped or kicked or covered with blanket increase. The presence of a curious toddler or an inquisitive pet presents additional safety concerns.

Device interfaces involving key pad buttons, touch screens, icons and stepped instructions as part of therapy delivery had to be carefully considered to avoid potential use errors. Clinical terminology and acronyms can be intimidating and confusing. Even an aesthetically institutional product design can discourage compliance for a patient who is eager to regain normalcy and not appear outwardly sick once back at home.

A medical device manufacturer looking to take advantage of the growing movement toward therapeutic care being prescribed and delivered at home is well-advised to closely examine and understand the associated usability issues upfront and design to them, rather than expect quick success in thinly veiled product reskins. At Ximedica, our human factors experts across research, design, engineering and regulatory disciplines delve daily into these inherent challenges and creatively solve the design problems associated with expanding a client’s product portfolio into home use settings.