Saving Lives with UX Design

UX in healthcare has previously been just a side note, but its importance is growing rapidly due to user demands, rising costs and the understanding of the risks involved in not paying attention to the usability of medical devices.


Using healthcare devices correctly and effectively is paramount for patient safety. The need to comply with regulations is a key element when creating the safest devices possible. But when compared with unregulated industries, this has had an impact on the pace of innovation. 

According to research by McKinsey, the markets for technologies in screening and diagnosis, wellness and disease prevention, and care delivery are expected to grow by at least eight percent per annum. Experts expect much of this growth to be fuelled by a push for innovation and better user experiences. 

“Over the past few years, the approach to UX has significantly evolved from human factors and usability to much broader expectations from our customers and users in regard to user experience,” says Sebastian Fischer, UX/UI Design Manager at medical and safety technology product manufacturer Dräger. “A decade ago, a device had to be safe from a technical perspective and comply with regulations. Now, devices must support the entire clinical workflow.”


UX in the Operating Room

Hospitals are high-pressure spaces where the personnel are trying to do their job as efficiently and carefully as possible. Lowering the cognitive load and minimizing potential risks plays a lion’s share in healthcare UX design. 

“In the U.S. alone, user error is the third leading cause of death in hospitals. Usability is a tremendously important issue for us and for any manufacturer in the medical space,” notes John Grotting, Director of UX at Dräger. “What we’re trying to do is figure out how our interface and the overall usage of the devices can lead to fewer errors in the process.” 

Fischer points out that the user interface shouldn’t only be safe from a technical perspective. “The next step is to ensure that it’s perceived as safe to interact with in that fast-paced hospital environment,” he says. 

Qt’s collaboration with Dräger originally started as the company was looking for a platform-independent UI framework that could be used for Windows platforms as well as embedded devices. 

"We benefit from Qt’s ability to scale UIs to different physical screens sizes and resolutions used in our medical devices while maintaining the usability and readability of screen content, " explains Carsten Leischner, Director of Software Engineering, Medical Platform at Dräger. "Today, we use Qt’s solutions for ventilators, anaesthesia machines, incubators and patient monitors." 

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Meeting Safety Regulations

The healthcare industry is the most regulated industry after aeronautics, which is why it is no surprise that complying with notified bodies such as the FDA, TÜV and the EU heavily influences the development of healthcare devices and solutions. 

Grotting says, “There’s a growing need for more lean approaches to working, which means new iterations of software need to be brought out more quickly. At the same time, the regulatory restrictions are becoming more difficult to meet. So, when we want to make a release, it takes more effort and more money.” 

Roger Mazzella, Senior Product Manager at Qt, knows the hurdles new solutions must cross to get them released. 

"We help our clients to speed up the development process, but that in itself does not guarantee the regulated medical product will get to the market faster," Mazzella notes.  

"After the development part is done, we support our client’s certification, clinical and human factors testing, and regulatory processes by providing the necessary workflow and QA tools along with transparency into how the Qt development platform is developed and tested."

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Consumer Habits and Cost Driving Innovation 

Fischer says that while the industry has been behind the consumer product side by ten years or so, the outlook is changing. Nurses, doctors and surgeons are now used to smartphones and other such devices and have started to demand similar user experiences at work. 

“Back in 2013, when iPads became more popular, the users of medical devices started to demand devices with similar UI. It’s a challenge to address the growing expectations, like having a modern UI despite the solution being based on hardware that can be comparatively old,” notes Leischner referring to the fact that in the healthcare industry, product life cycles are much longer than in the consumer industry. 

“We have moved from various screen sizes and devices to a network of devices that work in unison. This has vastly improved the workflow at hospitals,” Grotting adds. 

But there are other reasons for the growing interest in UX in healthcare. One is the fact that training hospital personnel to use a new device costs a lot, which means making products that are easy and intuitive to use is a huge saving. Another is liability, as in who is responsible when a life is lost due to misuse of a healthcare device. 

“Just because a regulated medical product works as intended does not mean it is automatically used as intended. The liability of a medical device being used improperly does not fall on the user, but on the medical product manufacturer," Mazzella points out.  

The pandemic has also pushed the development of headless embedded devices and technologies that enable remote surgery and patient monitoring. Due to cost or insurance policies, patients are being discharged from hospitals and moving to home care, which is also changing the requirements for UX. 

“Prior to 2020, telehealth, remote device operation, and remote patient monitoring were very slowly making their way to the market due to cybersecurity risks. But the pandemic changed the game. Since the medical environment is changing rapidly, connected medical devices are becoming essential, thus catalyzing the need to innovate faster," Mazzella concludes.


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