How To Design Home Health Products That Inspire Patient Compliance

 In Design Strategy, Medical Product Design

The success of home health products can be measured in much the same way as any other medical device: How well does the product work? To what extent does it improve health outcomes? How are sales? But, unlike medical devices for clinical settings, home health products must also succeed in another category. These devices must facilitate patient compliance. 

After all, if a device is too confusing, unattractive, or uncomfortable for people to use, they simply won’t. Because home health devices are typically used by patients with little to no training or oversight from health professionals, these devices must be intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and ergonomic, or users will fail to use them as prescribed, if at all. And if that happens, your sales will eventually suffer alongside patient outcomes.

Of course, once a product is released, patient compliance can be next to impossible to measure. But your product design process can and should be geared toward creating home health products that patients are more likely to use as prescribed by their doctors. Here’s what you need to know to make that happen.

Home Health Medical Devices: What are the Barriers to Patient Compliance? 

These are the most common reasons that patients fail to comply with home health products. Your ability to design products that inspire compliance will begin with an understanding of this list. Patients are most likely to fail to comply with a device’s prescribed use when:

  • The device is uncomfortable. This is especially true for wearables like knee braces and pedometers, for which comfort is a dealbreaker.
  • The device is unintuitive. Consumer companies excel at making intuitive products. They understand that most consumers have very little patience for instruction manuals and want to be able to quickly master the use of a new device simply by interacting with it. Medical device companies don’t always get this right. When it comes to home health, the products that will find the most success are the ones that can be experienced like consumer products. Everything from putting the device on to the order of operations should be readily apparent to your users without any special training. If they have to refer to the instructions for use (IFU) insert, you’ve probably already failed.
  • The device is ugly. Your product may work just fine, but if it’s unattractive, many patients won’t want to use it or, especially, wear it. For example, fall detection devices made for elderly patients are often rejected because they are unattractive. Consider the difference between a FitBit and a medical accelerometer that are meant to be worn on the wrist. They are worlds apart in the looks department. Which would you rather wear?
  • The benefits of using the device aren’t obvious enough. In some cases, the benefits of using a home health medical device may not be clear to users. For example, if your product is confusing to use, that’s likely to undercut user confidence in its effectiveness. That concern doubles when a user can’t tell whether or not the product is functioning correctly.
  • The device doesn’t align with users’ lifestyles and routines. Perhaps your device is too heavy, too bulky, or not portable enough. Regardless, if your product doesn’t fit easily into your users’ daily life, it’s likely to be left untouched. 

Beyond Market Research: Design Research is the The Key to Producing Successful Home Health Products 

Your firm’s product design process most likely begins with market research. Market research does a great job of telling you that the market would benefit from having product X. It’s a crucial first step. But it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.

For example, your market research may make it clear that there’s an opportunity to produce a portable version of a product you already make. Without doing any research, you can probably guess that this portable version will need to be lighter than the original and outfitted with wheels or a handle for carrying.

But only your intended users can tell you the granular details needed to successfully design a product they’ll actually want to use. In this case, your users may only need certain features when using the device in portable mode, and they may need it to be under a certain, specific weight in order to comfortably use it on the go.

Market research is limited in another way when it comes to home health care products. That’s because your buyer may not actually be your end user — it may be the health care provider who then prescribes the device to her patients. In this case, you may not get to know your user needs by talking to your buyer.

The solution? Your design team needs to conduct robust design research involving users throughout the product design process.

Practical Approaches to Design Research

While user research should be interwoven throughout product development, it’s especially crucial that users are included at the early, strategy-defining phase (this is called formative research) and at the validation phase (summative testing).

Formative research, in which users interact with comparable products and offer feedback, should directly inform your user needs and design inputs. Summative validation testing, meanwhile, should measure how well your product works for users in meeting those needs. Summative validation should also be hands-off and observational. In other words, it should mimic the experience of figuring out a newly prescribed device in the home environment, without any special training or feedback.

Of course, defining user needs and validating a product are all part and parcel of the FDA’s Design Controls process. But take note: It’s entirely possible to get FDA approval for a home health product that fails to be intuitive enough, comfortable enough, or attractive enough to inspire patient compliance in the home environment.

Your team needs to be acutely aware of the barriers to home health compliance that we’ve already described. If you keep those factors top of mind and prioritize design research, you’re sure to design a better product — one that inspires patient compliance, produces better health outcomes, and plays a starring role in your firm’s product portfolio for years to come.

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