Jan 13, 2021

The?coronavirus?pandemic has shown us that a lot of primary healthcare can?and perhaps should?be delivered remotely by clinicians who speak with,?and even visually examine,?patients?using?various videoconference platforms. Even when the pandemic abates, the shift to?remote delivery of?healthcare?is likely to stay put. At least this is what a lot of the “experts” are predicting, and I agree with the forest.?It is a classic example of a?paradigm shift.

From this point forward, healthcare?services will still be delivered by clinicians working in hospitals, doctor’s offices, outpatient clinics,?and even pharmacies (e.g., CVS, Walgreens).?However,?compared to pre-pandemic practices,?an increased proportion?of healthcare services?will be?delivered remotely by clinicians, or?self-administered by patients and their caregivers at?home and in other, non-clinical settings. The shift?was?anticipated for a long time, and the pandemic?dramatically?accelerated it.?

Implications for user safety?

To go along with the shift to at-home healthcare performed by laypeople, we are likely to see?the?mass?migration?of medical technology from conventional healthcare settings into the home. This will put considerable pressure on medical product developers to understand and meet the needs of a different user population?–?the?general population versus trained healthcare professionals –?to assure?use-safety.?In?turn,?developers?will need?to pay greater?attention to human factors engineering;?the?science?of?developing?products?with risk minimization in mind?and accommodating?known?shortcomings, such as?the likelihood that?users?commit?the occasional?physical blunder, get distracted,?and?simply?forget?things.?

Many?societies worldwide?are already accustomed to laypeople?using?medical products at home. The list?of products?includes?drug autoinjectors,?glucose meters,?insulin pumps,?nebulizers,?heart and respiratory monitors, oxygen delivery machines, and even more advanced products?such?as?intravenous (IV)?infusion pumps?and dialysis machines.?And,?in just the?past?few years, laypeople?have?learned to use?software applications running on smartphones, tablets, and conventional computers to manage their health conditions and communicate with healthcare providers. The volume of?such?interactions is likely to grow rapidly and, therefore,?the user interfaces had better be good ones.?

User interface design considerations?

Bad user interfaces will frustrate?laypeople,?some of whom?might not have the option to be seen?in?traditional healthcare environments.?Products with poor?user interfaces?could lead directly to adverse outcomes, which is medical-industry jargon for injuries and deaths. Conversely,?products with?good use interfaces?should enable?safe, effective and satisfying?healthcare?delivery.??

As?a?human factors specialist who?is part of a team that?designs?and evaluates?home-use medical products, it excites me to see investments?in good user interface design pay off. The payoff comes when you watch?someone at home?open the box?of?an?unfamiliar medical product, set it up properly, and proceed to use it exactly as intended to produce a?useful outcome?(e.g.,?deliver the right dose of an inhaled medication to treat COPD).?The payoff also comes when you watch a layperson pair their smartphone to a?medical product that will?then?measure a physical condition,?suggest?a therapeutic action, and?deliver?a?user-authorized therapy?in a safe and effective manner.??

Already, the world needs more home healthcare products that “check the box” when it comes to safety and?ease?of use. Fortunately, for some time now, regulatory bodies have called upon medical product manufacturers to invest in good human factors engineering.?I’m pleased that our?Human?Factors?Research?& Design team, is playing a role in?making the building wave?of?healthcare devices suitable for?at-home?use.?

Michael Wiklund, CHFP, P.E., is General Manager of Human Factors Research & Design at Emergo by UL.

Additional human factors engineering and usability resources from Emergo by UL:

  • Human factors engineering (HFE) research for medical devices, IVDs and combination products
  • HFE design and prototype development support
  • Whitepaper: Common use errors and design considerations for combination product manufacturers


  • Michael Wiklund