The Next Generation of Design Challenges: Home Healthcare

Medical devices will look and feel different in the next 20 years, because, as design and product development people, our criteria are changing.

Design and usability research for home-based medical devices will elicit vastly different design inputs, because the user profiles are drastically different than they are at the hospital. Although our research questions look largely identical when creating design inputs, the "new buyer" will change the answers to those questions in a significant way.

For instance, we're used to making devices that are used, let's say, in a doctor's office. Therefore, we can make a lot of assumptions because we know a doctor is going to be using the device. We have a good idea of education level, expectations based on past devices, and more.

If a medical device is going to be used in a hospital -- say, a medical cart -- there are specific environmental considerations. We have to think about the floor it's going to be on and the bumpers. What's it going to hit? What's it going to do when it's at the elevator and there's a gap in the floor? How many cables will it have to roll over? How wide are hospital doors?

Hospitals have their differences, but in a lot of ways, they're very similar. But now, think about the home environment.

In a house, there may be narrow walkways. Maybe there are slippery, wet rugs on the floor by the sink. Maybe there are electronic devices near the sink. So, we have to think of a whole new set of environmental criteria, too. And home environments are vastly different from each other -- no two homes are exactly the same -- and that makes it a more challenging design problem.

And think about activities in a home. People are dispensing medications. People are cooking food. People are moving the patient. There could be kids yelling, dogs barking, neighbors knocking on the door. The patient may have to be lifted with some sort of device, like a Hoyer Lift. So, there's a lot of stuff going on, and understanding who's doing what is a huge matter.

Plus, in a home care environment, you may have many caregivers: a physical therapist, a social worker, a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, maybe some kind of a psychologist or some sort of mental health care professional. And there is possibly a personal care attendant (PCA) for overseeing all of the patient's needs.

Therefore, devices and equipment will need to be designed in a way that the home user and the attendants can easily understand. Design will have to be as simple as possible without a lot of assumptions about educational background and high-level medical training.

Finally, aesthetic requirements may also be different in a home versus a hospital. People want things in their home that don't stand out like a sore thumb. In a hospital, especially in an emergency-type situation, there isn't necessarily a lot of care going into what it looks like or how that aesthetic fits the environment.

But if you're going to have an

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