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  Why Medical Devices Don’t Work  
Posted 2007-08-06 by Tony Walsh
Having spent the majority of last week in a hospital with my wife and new baby, I had lots of time to observe a few different types of medical devices in use. In most cases, I noted a gap between operation of a device as planned by its designer and the practical application of the device as executed by hospital--various minor failings transpired within that gap. I thought I'd file a couple here for future reference (these seem to be pretty typical issues--I look at these as interactive design issues, personally).

Designers didn't understand the usage environment: The makers of the device didn't seem to test it enough in its intended environment. Sometimes this resulted in a device that was practical but not comfortable or easy to use. In a few cases, fixes to these shortcomings were obvious, so I'm not sure if the hospital was using old technology, or the makers of the device don't have a human-centric design approach (but that would be crazy, wouldn't it?).

Users didn't understand how to use the device properly: The users of the device weren't adequately trained (either not enough training, or trained to use the device in a suboptimal way). On top of this, the device interfaces were either too complicated to figure out for non-techies (typical of a device designed by engineers), or the interaction of one device with related devices complicated the situation. For example, the temperature inside a phototherapy booth was higher than desired because two additional UV lamps were blasting down into it. The nurses couldn't figure that the main booth didn't factor in non-networked equipment (the two extra lamps). I had to adjust the main booth myself, factoring in the additional heat. All kinds of examples like this, rather surprising actually.

Lots of good examples of how people use technology in ways not originally intended can be found on the ever-amazing Street Use blog. In the case of the hospital I lived at last week, I wish that the designers of medical devices were smarter, and that hospital staff were craftier with medical hardware. I'm guessing this is a generational thing--video game players will probably have a leg up over today's 30-something nurses.
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