Designing for Two: Balancing the Needs of Prescribers and Patients for Home Health Medical Devices

 In Design Strategy, Medical Product Design

The most successful medical devices are those designed specifically with users’ needs in mind. That’s a pretty basic tenet of product design, right? But what happens when a device has more than one group of users, each with a competing set of needs? If your home health medical device is prescribed to patients by physicians and other medical professionals, then that’s exactly the position you find yourself in.

In designing medical products prescribed for home use, it’s imperative that you tend to the needs of both your prescribers and your end users. Target the needs of prescribers to the exclusion of patients, and you’ll end up with a product with below-average patient compliance. But if you focus solely on patients and ignore practitioners, your product may not make it into the hands of your end users in the first place.

Only by considering both sets of users’ needs can you create a product that providers and patients will be happy with.

Home Health Medical Devices: Prescriber Needs versus Patient Needs

Defining user needs is step one in the medical device development process. If yours is a prescribed device, that means defining the needs of both prescribers and patients.  Of course, the users of your specific device will have their own unique sets of needs that you’ll need to identify via user interviews and observational research. But it may help to understand that prescribers and patients tend to have different concerns when selecting prescribed home health medical devices.

Prescriber Needs

Prescribers’ needs tend to revolve around the following factors:

  • Budget. Prescribers are often concerned with the cost of medical devices, as well as which specific devices are reimbursed by health insurance providers  — and to what extent. If they are choosing between two similar devices, and one is reimbursed at 100% and the other is reimbursed at a lower rate, they’ll almost certainly go with the device that is fully covered.  This can save their patient money and increase the chances that they’ll actually buy and ultimately use it. The downside?  The cheapest product or the one with the highest reimbursed isn’t always the best product.
  • Relationships with Durable Medical Equipment (DME) coordinators and distributors. Doctors working in hospitals or larger clinical settings must often work with DME coordinators, procurement offices, or a particular distributor to order prescribed medical devices. DME coordinators and procurement offices are concerned with cost, value, and economies of scale and make purchasing decisions primarily through those lenses. Distributors, meanwhile, carry certain brands but not others. Both DME coordinators and distributor relationships may limit the choices that providers have when selecting specific prescribed medical devices.
  • Brand confidence and reputation. Physicians and other medical providers may choose medical devices based on their confidence in the brand (which may have to do with their own previous experience with the brand) or a brand’s overall reputation.
  • Clinical effectiveness. As you might expect, doctors typically seek to source medical devices with the greatest track record for clinical effectiveness.
  • Patient needs. Physicians often consider their perception of their patients’ needs and desires when ordering prescribed medical devices. However, not all providers care about giving their staff or patients choices when it comes to the medical devices they prescribe.
  • Confidence in supply. Doctors want to know that they won’t encounter any supply issues with the medical devices they order.
  • Staff and patient training. When selecting medical devices, providers often consider the amount of training that will be required for staff to train patients on the device. The less training required, the better. Of course, certain categories of medical devices necessarily demand more training than others. The important thing is that your device is as intuitive as possible to learn and use within your specific category.
  • Familiarity. Many providers prefer products or brands they already know and are familiar with. They may not want to learn a new product’s system, even if they don’t love the product they are currently using.

You probably noticed that you as a medical device company can’t control some of the factors on the preceding list (for example, a particular provider’s familiarity with your product line and their desire to stick with what they know). That’s fine — you can’t control what you can’t control. But the prescriber needs you can influence should actively shape your product development process.

Patient Needs

Patients have their own sets of needs when it comes to prescribed medical devices. First and foremost, patients always appreciate the ability to choose between more than one brand or model when they are prescribed a particular device. Whether or not choices exist, the following factors are especially important for patients:

  • Style and aesthetics. Patient compliance decreases when medical devices — especially those that patients must wear — are unattractive. For example, most patients who are prescribed a fall-detection device would rather wear a sleek watch than a bulky device worn around their neck.
  • Comfort. If your product is physically uncomfortable to use or wear, patients will seek alternative options or, possibly, neglect to comply with your device’s prescribed use.
  • Ease of training and use. It can feel overwhelming for patients to learn or routinely use a medical device that is confusing, overly complicated, or temperamental. Your device must be as intuitive as possible for patients to learn and use.
  • Convenience. Patients care about how convenient a medical device is to use. For example, they may prefer a portable version of a prescribed device when given the option.
  • Confidence in a device’s efficacy. Patients are unlikely to comply with a medical device in which they have low confidence. They need to be clear on the therapeutic value of your medical device in order to use it as prescribed.
  • Price. In the event that a prescribed medical device isn’t fully covered by insurance, the cost of the device is typically passed to patients. When this is the case, price becomes an important factor for patients.

A Medical Device Built for Two: How to Bridge the Needs of Prescribers and Patients

It can be challenging to develop a product meant to appeal to two totally different groups of users. Here are a few tactics you can take to ensure that your prescribed medical device is truly built for both prescribers and patients:

  1. Develop empathy for both user groups. Empathy begins with observational research. Your goal is to find out what’s most important to each group when it comes to your particular device. Interviews are valuable, but observing both groups in context allows you to discern subtleties you might otherwise miss. Make sure to include patients who have used your current generation model, prototype, or a competitor’s device for a while. You are almost certain to get different feedback from a prescriber versus a patient who has used a device for several weeks or months.
  2. Rank and prioritize needs. It may feel daunting to try and incorporate a laundry list of user needs from each group into your device’s design requirements. It may help to rank each group’s needs in order of importance (with the help of your users, of course). Start by taking the top five reasons your prescriber group chooses a device like yours and the top five things your patient group actually wants from the device and go from there. You should also plan to prioritize any overlapping requirements.
  3. Include both groups in all user testing. Any stage of the development process that includes user testing should include users from both groups. Only by consistently including users from both groups in your testing can you be sure that your device is headed in the right direction.

It can be challenging to balance the needs of prescribers and patients. But taking the effort to do so will result in a better product with not one but two fan bases.

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