As research confirms a direct correlation between a patient's emotional and physical health, designers have to create devices that will make patients and healthcare workers feel confident. The following article shows why this approach is crucial to a device manufacturer's bottom line.
• Visual and experiential triggers

• Importance of observation, interviewing, and immersion

• Example #1: Anesthesia for children

• Example #2: ECG monitoring

By Kevin Young and Allan Cameron
Embarrassment. Confusion. Fear. These emotions, experienced by people using medical products, have a direct effect on a medical manufacturer's bottom line. It is no longer enough to produce a functionally well-designed medical product. To be competitive, medical companies and their design groups must conceive and deliver products that fulfill higher level user needs. Put simply, products must now take into account, in their design and functionality, how they make a person feel emotionally, not just physically, in addition to curing or stabilizing a medical condition.
The Medical Consumer

Administering anesthesia to children via a nitrous mask or injection can create fear and discomfort. The PediSedate is a non-intrusive headset that administers nitrous oxide through a single-sided snorkel while the patient enjoys video games or CDs.
To address this issue, one must first define who a medical consumer is. On the surface, one could assume the focus to be solely on the patient. However, in reality, it is whoever comes into contact with the medical product. This, of course, includes the patient but also involves doctors, nurses, the patient's family, and even hospital administrators. It is imperative to weigh the needs of this diverse group and then strike the correct balance among their individual desires. Satisfying the needs of this group of medical consumers is a complicated challenge but one that has grown increasingly crucial to the success of a medical device.

Medical products that successfully address emotional needs incorporate visual and/or experiential triggers that communicate a particular feeling, maybe a sense of wellness, calm, comfort, or reassurance. To create this effect, design teams must have a keen understanding of the varying emotional needs of medical consumers. A patient's sense of health is determined by many factors including how they and those around them perceive them. Patients can feel branded as sick when attached to wires and tubes, patients' families grow anxious when looking at their loved one who is bound to an intimidating device, and healthcare workers resist using treatments that cause unnecessary emotional stress. In one situation, a product should seem light and mobile, while in another, it should blend into the surrounding, not attracting attention. Through form, color, detail, and feel, a product can help all persons involved in healthcare have a greater sense of ease and normalcy.
Evolution of Need
For years, manufacturers of medical products have focused on raw functionality—efficacy. The unconsidered emotional message to the medical consumer has been: "the more serious, the better." In addition, there historically has been minimal participation in the healthcare industry by patients. However, times have changed. The medical product world has seen a shift in consumer conscientiousness, creating demands and expectations. Patients have moved from being passive participants to knowledgeable, empowered consumers. An Internet-informed society and the choices that consumers now have at their fingertips in all areas of their lives have created an expectation that demands sensitive and superior solutions.

Along with this consumer demand, the constant advance of technology blurs the lines of simple functionality and fosters the potential for addressing the emotional aspects of medical products. These days, medical products must consider emotional needs to have the competitive advantage. No longer are "acceptable products" acceptable.
Guidelines and Advice
How can a development team uncover the elusive needs of the medical consumer? During a product development effort, it is imperative for the team to utilize a slightly non-traditional approach. There are definite guidelines for the process but staying open to the discovery is essential.

The first step is to forget what you think you know—not an easy thing to do. Too often companies make assumptions based on their opinions regarding user needs or on feedback from their sales force. Usually, it is a hard-to-find nugget or a collection of subtle inputs that make the difference in the emotional life of the medical consumer. It is also common to mistakenly rely too heavily on quantitative research. Although this data can be useful, it is not effective in determining the specific needs and motivations of all individuals that come into contact with the product.

Secondly, it is vital to determine exactly who the medical consumers of this product are. This might seem like an obvious step but key individuals are often overlooked when developing a medical product. Knowing how a particular product will make a patient's family feel about the condition of their loved one can set a product apart from its competition. Once these key stakeholders have been identified, there are several tools that can be used to determine their needs.

Direct observation is an invaluable technique. This is especially useful because what people say they do is often very different from what they actually do (quantitative vs. qualitative). Watching a nurse struggle as she attempts to quickly set up a piece of surgical equipment is dramatically more effective than asking her to fill out a survey about how she feels about the product. Following direct observation, it is important to interview the individuals and probe into how they felt as they were using the equipment and the reasons behind their actions. Care needs to be taken when creating the interview protocol so that the "right" questions are asked because biases often influence questions.

A typical ECG monitor with its tangle of leads is difficult to attach and restricts a patient's movement. An alternative is the LifeSync wireless ECG unit, which was designed to increase a sense of wellness and reduce the patient's emotional stress.
Immersion is another useful technique. "Becoming the patient" by entering the patient's world as best you can—wearing monitors all day or using lancets for a week—creates emotional empathy with the users and a personal understanding of the patient experience. Working with sociologists and psychologists also can deepen one's understanding of the drivers behind patient behavior.

These and other techniques can be used to deeply understand the needs and motivations of the medical consumer of a particular product. This up-front discovery work is essential before a team puts pencil to paper or begins to breathe life into an idea. With this knowledge, the development team is prepared to successfully invent targeted solutions that emotionally resonate with medical consumers.
Two Sample Solutions
To help illustrate the value of this approach, let's look at two product solutions. The first involves the administration of anesthesia.For years, administering pre-operative anesthesia to children was done in a way that terrified them. It also caused great stress for parents and healthcare workers. Children had to be bound to papoose boards and restrained by healthcare workers while anesthetics were injected with needles. Another option, the nitrous mask, can cause fear and discomfort. To address this problem, PediSedate was developed. A non-intrusive headset that allows the child to play video games or listen to CDs during the anesthetization process, it administers nitrous oxide through a single-sided snorkel that moves out of the way when necessary so that the child does not feel confined. It looks like a toy with its bright, transparent colors but is a dependable medical device. It's also an example of the budding generation of medical products that consider how all medical consumers interacting with a product feel emotionally.

The second example involves the area of ECG monitoring. Typically, an ECG monitor is an imposing scientific device with an octopus of leads that attaches to the patient. The leadset is difficult to attach for the healthcare worker, and the heavy leads weigh down the patient. An alternative is the LifeSync wireless ECG unit, which uses Bluetooth technology to free patients from their beds. The main transmitting unit has the look of a Walkman and all that it suggests—health and freedom. It straps to the bicep and the flexible, lightweight, flat, self-orienting leadset lies neatly close to the chest, easily attached by the healthcare worker. The wireless unit allows the patient to move freely about the room as well as transfer to a different room without lead removal. It increases the sense of wellness and reduces emotional stress for both patients and their families. In addition, far less nursing care is needed, ultimately reducing hospitalization costs.

Kevin Young and Allan Cameron are principal industrial designers at Design Continuum, 1220 Washington St., West Newton, MA 02465. Design Continuum is an international consulting firm that specializes in the design and development of breakthrough strategies, products, and services. It has offices in Boston, Milan, and Seoul. Both Young and Cameron have won awards for their design work and have done extensive work in the medical arena. Young's medical projects have included both medical products and medical instrumentation. Cameron's medical projects have included surgical tools and controls, heart/lung machines, dialysis equipment, laboratory instrumentation, diagnostic devices, and their accompanying disposables. They can be reached at and
For additional information on the technologies discussed in this article, see Medical Design Technology online at or Design Continuum at