Healthcare Technology Design – Putting Patients First

By Ed Hoxha

Everyone is familiar with the age-old philosophical problem, “If a tree falls in a forest, but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Scientifically, yes, but the question is really asking do things have meaning and usefulness if they are not experienced.  

When it comes to healthcare technology, a similar question can be asked. If a piece of technology does a good job of collecting and/or producing data, but it is extremely difficult to use, is it actually useful? Engineers can create a capable piece of software, but if the users stay away because it’s not intuitive, or it takes too much time training users for it to work correctly, then we can’t really say the technology is successful. 

In clinical trials, the data comes from patients. These patients range from healthy volunteers in early phase studies to very ill patients whose symptomatology can directly interfere with their ability to participate in study activities such as tracking their medication dosing regimen. Despite these facts, it wasn’t until recently that healthcare technology companies began adopting a patient-first approach to solution design. When AiCure was putting together it’s remote monitoring and engagement technology for clinical research, we knew that it must be simple and intuitive for patients. For us, there were two keys to creating a patient-centered solution that would work.

Empathy

We hear and talk a lot about patient burden in clinical trials, but what does that mean? The majority of patients who participate in clinical studies are doing so because they hope to find a cure for an illness or prolong their lives. They are managing the stress and responsibilities of a research study along with their jobs and their families – they’re going through a lot. It was important for the team at AiCure that we put ourselves in the patients’ shoes. We wanted to make a user interface that wasn’t intimidating and allowed patients to get in and get out quickly while giving them a sense of accomplishment. It may be too much to expect to reduce a patient’s burden, but we can certainly work hard to make sure we’re not adding to it.

Accessibility

Above all the system had to be easy to get into and then easy to use. The first part was building a solution that can live on devices that most patients are already familiar with, namely smartphones and tablets. At this point, most people – patients included – are familiar with downloading and accessing smartphone and tablet applications. Using this infrastructure means less training is necessary.

Once in the app, patients are walked through what they need to do via simple, straightforward instructions. For example, patients are presented with a set of animations that help explain how to correctly take their medication. The app is designed to guide them through dosing, utilizing the smart device’s camera to record each dose. The software can detect issues with dosing and provide gentle guidance, giving them second and third tries to administer the medication in a way that rewards effort and preserves dignity. In this way, empathy and accessibility work together to acknowledge the reasons why a patient might be having trouble and helping them to be successful.

Patients are central to the success of any clinical trial. Technology that engages patients, keeping them involved while accurately collecting data can be of tremendous benefit to sponsors. But for the technology to produce the desired effects, it must be designed with the patients’ experience in mind. By understanding the needs of the patient and working to create solutions that help them fit clinical study participation into their lives without creating new burdens, we can create sustainable study models that produce reliable and accurate data for sponsors.