Engineers and clinicians play a large role in developing new medical innovations, but what about the patient? We examine the benefits of having patient input in the design process and how this can and has been applied.
The advancements in modern technology broke the rate at which we, humanity, are developing in the universe. One of the core applications of modern technology is in the medical field. Using rudimentary technology back in the 1900s, we were able to increase the average lifespan of every human being on the planet. Since then, numerous advancements have been made  to improve the health of millions of people. 

As we continue to discover new techniques and quality machines, engineers have become a key part of the advancements in the medical field. Even though the medical field is growing at a rapid rate, the developments are not happening fast enough.

One way to improve the use of technology and increase innovative solutions is by bringing patients into the design process. Currently, most of the design processes have a product-driven approach. Engineers are coming up with new devices and technologies, but they are not satisfying the patient’s needs. By not considering the intended user of a medical technology, the product may not turn out to be as helpful to the world as the engineer expected. Therefore, only by bringing the user into the picture, can we revolutionise the whole process.

Let’s say that a team of engineers is working on a medicinal device. Now, if the engineers follow a product-driven approach, they may never think of meeting a person with that condition. Whether it’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or insomnia, the engineers won’t be able to fully comprehend the issue without seeing it closely for themselves.

The engineers could go ahead and release the product in the market but it may or may not be useful to those that it was intended to help. However, by bringing in the patient in the design process, we can eliminate this uncertainty. We can ensure that the product will be useful to everyone.

Considering patient input is, therefore, the key to creating future medical technologies. Usually, patient-driven products are seen from engineers that have a close experience with the condition either themselves or through a family member. One of the key aspects of design thinking is empathy. If you can’t empathize with the patient and create a product for the sake of making it, it won’t be of much use to anyone.

There are numerous ways in which an engineer can involve a patient in the design process. Focus groups are usually the most preferred forms of patient inputs for their maximum reach. You can select people suffering from various types of the same disease and measure the overall reaction. We can also apply some software testing methods like A/B testing and one-to-one unit testing to involve patients in the process. In A/B testing, a set of patients will be given product A, and the rest will be given Product B. The impact can then be measured by considering standard parameters such as the patients’ opinion on the device, how helpful it is, etc.

There are some issues with patient involvement. One problem is variability. Even though some conditions may create like-minded individuals, it is hard to establish common relationships among patients to obtain useful data. We can overcome this issue by taking a huge data set. A large data set usually gives normalised results. Once the core product is out, you can then focus on smaller data sets and customize the product so that it can be helpful to as many people as possible.

Share your thoughts

Involving patients in the design thinking process can bring revolutionary changes in the products we see every day. With this new model, we can help more people without too many product-recalls or remasters. You can learn more on this subject through our two-part podcast series ‘Putting the patient in the middle’. We are also interested in your thoughts on patient-driven vs product-driven approaches. Log in to your online community account to leave your comments below on ways patients can be involved in the design process.