By Dr Etáin Quigley, Change Team, ARCH

As techies and healthcare product/service experts, we can be open to making the mistake of ‘assumptions’. Sometimes what we assume to be useful or easy to use may not be so in reality. Leaving this light bulb moment until usability testing, when a prototype has been designed and developed, can be time prohibitive and costly. For this reason, I suggest we make more use of co-design and place more trust and value in the other experts – the users – at this point of design/development.

Usability is a central aspect to real world adoption of medical devices/services. As such, it is imperative that all devices have usability testing as an ongoing and built in process to the device design and development processes. However, what about before usability? What about adopting early patient-centred design?

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Harte et al, 2015 suggests that iterative human factor and comfort assessment is key to designing a successful product/service, and yet the majority of companies present with early stage prototypes, which cost a significant amount to produce, and are found to require major adaptations when used by the ‘user’. In line with this, the Food and Drug Administration and the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality has recently called for ‘human factor evaluations’ to be performed for all devices and systems during the early design process.

Co-design studies can be conducted at a very early stage of design and require no more than a ‘dummy’ device (perhaps made of Styrofoam and card) which resembles the proposed device. The beauty of this type of exploration is 1) low cost (Styrofoam and card!) and 2) the ability to have multiple ‘dummy’ device models for the user to ‘use’, explore and inform on the good, the bad and the ugly. Using ‘think out loud’ techniques – asking the user to talk as they use the dummy device – allows for rich data generation, which can then be fed back to the designer. It is then that the prototype can be developed and the usability study be conducted.

What is the point of this blog? Well, simply put – early co-design with the user, prior to prototype development, can save a whole load of time and money. It is a relatively easy project which can be conducted over a short space of time. Having a feedback loop from users prior to prototype development, as well as after, is likely to lend to the production of a user friendly product.

Message: think about your user first next time you have an idea and then think about adopting early co-design into your plan!

You can contact Etáin on etain.quigley@ucd.ie or call 01 716 5410.

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