The process we use for the design, development, and testing of health wearables is based on Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a process by which empathy guides design decisions. For healthcare, empathy centers around the patient and expands to include caregivers, friends, support network, even healthcare providers. At its core, we want to make sure that what we create aligns with a real need, not just created for technology or innovation alone. I first learned of Design Thinking from the d.school at Stanford University.
Where to Start
So, how do you begin this process? It starts with empathy. Who is the patient you are trying to help? What are their needs? You begin by identifying the patients and doing some basic research to get to know the issues. But at the end of the day, you need to talk to them. We use surveys, interviews, and patient observation to more deeply understand the “problem.”
From there, it is all about asking the right questions…without asking the questions! We want to learn what the common challenges experienced by these patients or caregivers are. We need to understand what the healthcare standard of care suggests for addressing these challenges.
Asking open ended questions, rather than just yes or no, is critical to answering these questions. Approaching this from a perspective of simply confirming your suspicions or preconceived notions won’t yield you the results you need. Get the person talking and make it a conversation. I find that I learn so much more about what the health-related issues are for a particular patient population if I just use a discussion prompt and see where the conversation leads.
Defining the Problem
Once we have surveyed and interviewed not only the patient and end user, but everyone connected to the health issue, we can create a problem statement
The problem statement clearly identifies what health issue we are trying to address. This issue could range from promoting independent dressing in patients with limited mobility, to effective remote monitoring of the vitals of a first responder.
With the problem statement established, we can organize our data to identify and explore four essential areas:
- Pain Points: The obstacles faced with the current standard of care.
- Barriers: Real or imagined limitations for changing the standard of care.
- Alternative Solutions: Existing options that do not include the standard of care.
- Feasibility: The practicality of a new solution.
All of the interview and survey data also provides the guidelines to the wearables’ overall design and to the challenges of creating that design. These are called metrics & constraints. The metrics are the characteristics the wearable needs to have in order to address the problem statement, or the health issue. Metrics can include performance measures, cost, or appearance. Constraints are the limitations the design team needs to consider during the design process, such as time, resources, and availability of the patients. I think of these two areas as the design checklist and the design parameter.
The next step in the design process is to ideate, or brainstorm solutions. Ideating involves the repetition of expanding and contracting your thinking around a potential solution. You don’t want to settle on the first concept you think of. Rather, you want to push your thinking back and forth from a broad range of ideas to a narrow few.
How do you get started? This can be one of the most difficult parts. I try to imagine I am the patient – what type of solution would I want?
To help us understand the needs of the patient, from the patient’s own perspective, we utilize the FEA2 model.
The FEA2 Model is defined by the four “needs” that everyone has, related to a wearable designed to address a health challenge.
These needs are:
- Functional Needs: Wearable designs being useful and performing the way it is intended.
- Aesthetic Needs: The wearable being visually appealing to the patient.
- Expressive Needs: The wearable being psychologically comfortable to wear.
- Accessibility Needs: The wearable being commercially available and affordable to the patient.
When thinking about possible solutions, it is important to keep these needs in mind so that the final design is actually used by the patient.
Prototyping is often a cyclical process and I encourage my team to build rapidly, build multiple ideas, and even build before they have finalized the design. It is all too easy to keep thinking and rethinking an idea – talking yourself into or out of ideas based on “what you think.”
However, until you see something in three dimensions, it can be hard to know what will work and what will not. The prototyping process includes innovating, or creating something new, iterating, building multiple ideas, and validating, seeing what works and what needs rethinking.
This process continues until an MVP, or “minimum viable product” is created. The MVP gives the team something tangible to test and something tangible to the end users and potential partners, collaborators, and investors. Once the MVP is approved as the final design, the prototype needs to be further refined to a market ready sample.
The Testing Phase
All prototypes need to go through testing. We call our testing usability or wear testing to reinforce the idea that the prototype must not just work in the lab setting. The prototype must be something that the patient can use in daily life.
Usability testing starts in the lab setting, but once we have a viable product, we take it to the patient for “real world” testing. Once we know that a product performs as it is intended, we look for three main criteria when we are testing with our patient population:
- Is the product practical for the patient’s life/daily routine?
- Is the product easy for the patient/caregiver to use?
- Is the product appealing to the given patient population?
If all these criteria are met, then we have a potentially successful product that we can evaluate for commercialization.
The last step in the design process is assessing the wearable. The assessment criteria give us a checklist for evaluating the wearable product for commercial use. My team uses the followings areas for assessment to make sure we can produce a product that is feasible:
The wearable must:
- Work effectively to treat the health issue
- Be safe for consumers to use
- Be cost effective so that it is not inaccessible to the population
- Be visually appealing, to whatever degree, to the given end user
- Be of value to the population we are serving
- Take a reasonable amount of time to produce
- Meet legal and ethical standards for production.
These criteria, in many ways, cover the same territory as previous steps in the process; this rigor ensures that our work is held to the highest standards possible.
If any of these criteria are not met, we return to previous steps design process, reassessing our conclusions and assumptions to correct our path. It is our mission to meet these criteria and to create wearables that are truly needed and produced in a way that aligns with the patient-centered approach to design.
This is a look into how we tackle the design of wearable technology. If you enjoyed reading this and want to learn more about design, technology, innovation and more subscribe to future blogs. Thanks for reading and I hope this inspires you to get out there and innovate!