Korey Johnson

How to Boost Patient Confidence Through Medical Device Design

By Korey Johnson
Korey Johnson

There are several tactical approaches to design that can help medtech manufacturers inspire patient confidence in their products and ensure proper usage. Following are three ways you can help ease the burden of delivering and receiving quality care through product design.

Medtech manufacturers are working with a healthcare system in crisis. Providers across the U.S. report unprecedented levels of burnout. And with a nationwide shortage of physicians expected as soon as 2025, it’s an issue that’s likely to worsen.

Providers are expected to treat an ever-increasing number of patients while receiving fewer and fewer resources. And with the majority of patients reporting at least one negative experience with their healthcare provider, it’s more important than ever for manufacturers to consider opportunities for how they can help ease the burden of delivering and receiving quality care.

Steps like ensuring a device includes design affordances to support intended use can go a long way toward building better patient experiences. And when manufacturers avoid using overly clinical language in apps, labeling, and instructional material, it can help support clear communication between providers and their patients.

Following are three ways to boost patient confidence when manufacturing medtech devices.

Begin with Empathy

As I’ll detail throughout this article, there are several tactical approaches to design that can help medtech manufacturers inspire patient confidence in their products. But in my experience, the first step toward building a user-focused, human-centered device is to begin with empathy.

Empathy helps manufacturers design with the patient experience in mind. By attempting to anticipate, understand, and address patients’ feelings about their conditions—and how those feelings can be complicated by others’ views—medtech manufacturers can build products with the potential to make patients more physically and emotionally well.

Many years ago, I was conducting research for a novel way to administer a particular drug via auto-injector. Up until then, the medicine in question had been delivered by a syringe and vial-type treatment. One day, a patient we were working with learned about the new auto-injection technology we were researching. Her response was so strong she almost broke down in tears.

The reason? At the time we were conducting this research, needles and syringes were heavily stigmatized in the U.S. So, whenever she had to self-administer her medication, she associated the action with the attitudes she observed connecting needles and addiction. Her emotional reaction stemmed from the potential to manage her health without the having to consider that stigma and the associated shame she felt because of it.

With an empathetic approach to design, manufacturers can help patients feel more cared for throughout the full course of their disease management. The benefit: more confidence in the products they’re using.

Keep Ease of Use at the Forefront

Knowledge builds confidence. That’s why my first tactical tip is to educate patients and help them understand how to use your product. Front-end knowledge, such as clearly marking which end of an auto-injector contains the needle in addition to instructions that reaffirm or expand on this information, helps ensure patients use your product correctly. And that helps patients avoid harmful experiences, like a needle in their thumb, that can lower confidence in your product and even the care team that prescribed it.

To ensure even first-time patients use your product safely and effectively, start by building affordances into your design. Whenever possible, incorporate visible, audible, or tactile cues to the intended functionality of a device so that end users intuitively “know” how the device works. When first using an epinephrine auto-injector, for example, patients should be able to easily:

  • Understand which end contains the needle or jet injector. You might distinguish this by shape (e.g., conical) and include clear identifying language in a large font.
  • Identify which cap to remove before an injection. The right cap might be highlighted via color (e.g., bright blue) or texture (e.g., ribbed).
  • Locate the injection trigger. Manufacturers can signal this via size, shape, or texture of the button or release.
  • See the drug being injected. This might be achieved by a clear window demarcated by direct, identifying language.

Affordances in the design process are meant to make medical devices intuitive to use, and the accompanying instructional materials provide space for you to communicate more complex information and highlight critical safety information. But, of course, it is not always possible to communicate all facets of intended use via design affordances, especially for more complex devices.

While some end users of a product will resist reading instructional materials regardless of how well they are designed, poorly designed instructions can discourage even the most conscientious users from spending the time necessary to parse out important information.

Why is this a problem? When patients skim or overlook instructional materials, they miss out on critical details that ensure safe and effective use. To help solve this problem, patient-forward manufacturers focus on providing the most important information in bite-sized chunks. For example, you can:

  • Include a visually focused quick-reference guide to teach patients how to use a connected blood pressure monitor.
  • Develop an in-app onboarding tour for a wearable fitness tracker’s companion app.

Presented with clear and concise instructions, patients feel less overwhelmed and more confident when first using a new device.

There are a variety of use scenarios that can shape patient interactions, and it’s important to keep them in mind when designing your product’s user interface and instructional materials. Novice and experienced users may have different instructional expectations and needs. By keeping such differentiators in mind, you can better tailor each front-end product interaction and, ultimately, help all patients confidently use your product.

Confirm Proper Usage

After teaching patients how to use your product via affordances and instructional materials, the next step is providing clear feedback confirming they are properly using your device. This might be as simple as a series of audible signals—say, clicks or beeps—that occur at the beginning or conclusion of each step. An initial click, for example, might signal the start of an auto-injector’s injection process. Then, a second click signals that the injection is complete. More advanced auto-injectors might also include a visual indication (e.g., an LED that turns from blue to green) at each step of the process.

Don’t assume patients’ confidence level will remain consistent throughout the lifespan of their experience with your product. Rather, investigate use over time to support continued confidence as users’ experiences and needs evolve.

The steps to use the first EpiPen models, for example, could be considered rather simple: patients read a set of instructions on the device itself before using it to inject epinephrine into their thigh. However, many first-time EpiPen users go years between being prescribed and taught how to use their EpiPen and needing to use it. So, when an allergic reaction hits, they may have a new product they no longer know how to use. Or they may have an EpiPen they’re familiar with, but the written instructions have faded over time.

Another likely scenario: undergoing an allergic reaction and at risk of anaphylaxis, even the most prepared patient can be too stressed to remember how to use their auto-injector. This is why it is so important for medtech manufacturers to conduct thorough user research and incorporate the resulting insights in each new product design.

What might this look like in practice in the real world? Considering the above, one manufacturer designed an epinephrine auto-injector that accounts for both lags between prescription and use and the potential for users under stress: the device provides verbal feedback that guides patients through the injection process.

With the right user research, manufacturers can identify patient needs and design products that continually meet those needs, even as they evolve and change.

Build Patient Confidence

From physical design updates to adding features that account for patient needs beyond the product’s primary use, building patient confidence depends on a design process responsive to all users’ needs. Sometimes, it’s even necessary to consider your users’ needs beyond the original purpose for your product. Take a digital therapeutic that’s intended to treat symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, for example. Its primary purpose might be to help patients improve their motor function and skill retention. But a manufacturer can deliver more by integrating:

  • A daily mood assessment log.
  • Informational usage tooltips that account for users’ cognitive decline.
  • In-app acknowledgements of a user’s particular condition.

User confidence isn’t developed in a vacuum, and it’s not always built by a linear process. So, listen to your users, and keep an eye out for how to increase their confidence as their needs for your product evolve.

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About The Author

Korey Johnson