Blog Series Part 2: Designing medical device software — and why are clinicians at the centre of it

The primary reason for recall of medical devices in previous decades was bad design (primarily design UIs) — yes, you read it correctly. This shocking fact should be enough to understand just how important design is when building medical devices, particularly software apps.

(I encourage you to read the Boston UX’s report on “Building a Better Medical Device”, from which I retrieved this piece of information.)

Medical devices, through good design practices, can dramatically enhance the service provided by healthcare professionals and received by patients. Furthermore, the concept of “enjoyable” or “delightful” was rarely associated with using things like electronic health records, drug reminders, or disease-related questionnaires. The digital era was needed to bring designers and medical professionals together to help everyone in the chain.

And just like clinicians, designers use a fundamentally similar method in their work:

“Good design is a matter of discipline. It starts by looking at the problem and collecting all the available information about it. If you understand the problem, you have the solution. It’s really more about logic than imagination” — Massimo Vignelli, famous graphic designer, architect, and industrial designer.

Just like clinicians, designers need answers to lots of questions (who is the product for, where will it be used, how will users interact with it, etc.). before being able to start their work. These exact questions have to be answered as part of the “legal & regulatory” work that I touched upon in my first article of this series, and will expand on in the next few articles.

Again, guided by Boston UX, but also industry standards and regulations, two principles are important to remember when it comes to designing medical devices (either software or hardware):

This all makes sense froom a clinical perspective — and having internal clinical expertise is essential for achieving both. For usability, medical professionals need to help designers (and the wider team) in understanding all of the ways in which the patient may be exposed to harm. When it comes to the overall experience for the patient, the clinician will know what kind of information are truly valuable to them, and what could be the ways of displaying those. Again, this is a team effort — designers, clinicians, regulatory consultants, and developers have to sit on a group call together (or a room, if ever possible again) and find the optimal solution.

Building a medical device that is safe, effective, enjoyable, and valuable for patients and medical professionals is difficult, but it starts with a proper understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Designers need our help to fully articulate the client’s needs and challenges, and in turn, they will be able to produce something that everyone will be happy to use. This will help your company or your product build a reputation that is based on true values of healthcare — empathy and an honest desire to help.

As clinicians and medical professionals rarely had the opportunity (read never) to get close to the world of design, I am sharing some useful resources/people that may be of help to you:

The Futur

Boston UX

AJ&Smart — Ultimate guide to design thinking

Note to TheFutur: I am especially grateful to its founder, Chris Do, for his tremendous dedication to help people understand the principles of proper client communication and actually listening to our clients and users, among other things…If you are interested in learning more about the minds of creative people, how to price your work, assign value, but also something about yourself that you may not be ready for, I highly recommend diving deep into their content.

Clinician at Huma, PhD student of Public Health focusing on hospital-acquired infections in ICUs. Building medical devices.