Human Factors Research in Medical Device Design
Q&A with Hyperfine Thought Leaders
We are here with Hyperfine Lead Product Designer Corinne Hay to discuss human factors research in medical device design.
Hyperfine: To kick off our conversation, please tell me what human factors mean to you.
Corinne: Human factors might sound like some fancy term that design professionals toss around—but it shouldn’t be. Human factors are just that—human factors. If you have ever tried to push a door in the wrong direction or struggled to figure out how to open a prescription medication container, you have encountered human factors design. In the case of the door, it might not have been abundantly clear which way it may open. In the case of the medication container, it might be intentionally tricky to open to ensure that children cannot easily get inside.
With both of these examples, the design changes the way you interact with them, which is just as important as how something looks and works. What are our natural inclinations, and how does the design encourage us to use the product one way or another? The practice of studying the way humans interact with products from an industrial, visual, physiological, experiential, and psychological perspective is what makes up human factors design.
If you continually struggle to use something, you are not the problem. The design is.
Hyperfine: That is interesting. I am glad someone is thinking about design so I don’t smack my head into a glass door. Why are human factors important for medical devices? Most medical devices are designed specifically for highly trained clinicians and caregivers, so why do we need to worry about ease of use?
Corinne: Making our product intuitive and easy to use for clinicians speeds up the time to diagnosis and potentially improves patient outcomes. When treating critically ill patients, we want to know we did everything possible to make them comfortable and help them. We prioritize patient care above all else. With the Hyperfine Swoop system, we have the potential to drastically reduce the time to treatment for patients. In our office, we frequently use the expression “time is brain” because making our product quick and easy to use is vital for improving patient care.
Hyperfine: Okay, you convinced me that human factors are important to consider in a medical device. How are we testing and looking into human factors at Hyperfine?
Corinne: At Hyperfine, we continually design for human factors by running tests, conducting focus groups, and visiting sites to examine how our intended user group uses our product. We know users vary from site to site depending on how a hospital or clinic uses the Swoop system. Our users include MRI technicians, nurses, and resident doctors, to name a few—so testing across these different types of users ensures better insight into how they might think about using our product.
Studying human factors with varied users with diverse backgrounds is crucial because they each might use and interpret user guidance differently. Symbols and phrases commonplace in a hospital might differ from those that designers and engineers might think to use. Testing and questioning our assumptions allows us to discover things we did not expect and is vital to ensuring we design an intuitive product for our intended users.
Hyperfine: What are some examples of cool things you and the team have learned from human factors testing?
Corinne: Another thing we often see arise from human factors testing is a disparity between “say” versus “do” data—when users tell us one thing but do something very different. A fun example I like to use is—I might say I work out frequently, but when I count the number of times in the last month, it doesn’t line up with my interpretation of my actions.
Recently, when examining a user interface’s workflow, I asked users if they thought it was intuitive, and almost all users reported it was. If I had stopped there, I would have been remiss. When I observed the same users utilizing the user interface, I identified previously unmentioned areas of confusion. Even though these areas did not stop users from performing an exam, we could improve them. This example illustrates the importance of performing user testing and site visits in addition to conducting interviews. Seeing how the users performed the task enabled me to relabel tabs in the user interface to convey information better and, as a result, speed up the exam workflow.
Digging even deeper into why users said they thought it was easy and more intuitive to use, they reported that “it was easier to use than all of the other devices they interact with.” In further discussion, they revealed that some hospitals infrequently replace devices, and many other products some hospitals use are decades old with outdated interfaces. If I had not followed up and pointed out the discrepancies, I wouldn’t have gotten to the root cause of their opinion—that they were mentally comparing our product to others and basing their views on that.
If we were in the business of putting out “good enough” products, we wouldn’t dig deeper. At Hyperfine, that isn’t an acceptable answer. We aim to speed time to patient care by continually making iterations and tweaks.
Hyperfine: That is an enlightening example. How can I, who am not a designer or an engineer, learn about human factors and promote and employ design thinking?
Corinne: This constant iteration and improvement process is called “design thinking” in my industry—but it should not be limited to the design industry. Don’t let the words “design thinking” intimidate you—everyone who has ever problem-solved has engaged in design thinking. One of my favorite books and a recent read at the Hyperfine Book Club was Change by Design by Tim Brown—an excellent book for people looking to learn how to incorporate design thinking and human-centered design into their work. After reading and discussing this book, I saw our teams start to iterate faster, work more collaboratively, and fail forward (embracing failures as stepping stones for future successes). Bringing this mentality to our work seems fun and, at times, even silly—but in the end, this means better patient outcomes, and nothing is more gratifying or important.