Design for Medical Devices Conference Recap 2016

Macadamian Technologies | April 28, 2016 | 6 Min Read

The conference left me with three days of inspiration and a lot of food for thought. It was good to hear academic and industry leaders confirm what I live and breath every day at Macadamian - that attention to user and patient details are good ethics as well as good business.

Our paper on a comparative evaluation of premium ultrasound systems was delivered to the Design for Medical Devices Conference (DMD), which took place from April 11 – 14 in Minneapolis (see paper reference at bottom), and I want to share a little of what I learned at the world’s premier medical devices conference. Here are the conference tracks and speakers that I found most compelling.

Opening Keynote

Even if you don’t calculate skin strain or review exoskeletons from a century ago on a daily basis, you would have found the opening keynote talk by Dr. Hugh Herr inspirational. Dr. Herr is an engineer and biophysicist and is the head of the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab. He is also a double amputee and a serious rock climber.

His talk focused on the design of bionic leg devices. One challenging question that resonated with me was “What does ‘comfortable’ mean scientifically for a patient?”

For Dr. Herr, increasing the comfort of a prosthetic sock is personal as well as professional, so he was very excited to educate attendees on the subject. He could only crawl before advanced prosthetic technology, but now he mountain climbs better than he ever has. He inspired attendees to see that we can systematically reduce not just disability, but, as importantly, the perception of disability with technology. People with glasses were once perceived as disabled, but now glasses are seen as making people look smarter. They have even become trendy. Will something like this happen with other technologies too?

As a researcher in healthcare user experience, I immediately thought of ways that I might by able to measure or gauge comfort in the research I do at Macadamian. I’m excited to try something like this in upcoming work and also that others are putting the patient’s needs at the forefront of research.

Data, Med Devices, Human Behavior: The Monitored Self

One speaker in the conference, Constantin Aliferis of the University of Minnesota, got me thinking about how mobile health technologies might change behavior. He discussed how changes can come about if actionable information is provided to patients, the reward for use is greater than the pain of use (i.e. make it easy), and it can be personalized. As we design mobile apps for patients and clinicians at Macadamian, these aspects are always at the top of our minds so I was happy to hear this from others too.

At the end of this track, the speakers’ panel was unanimous that we need more psychological research into how human behavior can be anticipated in medical device design. As someone who focused on biomedical engineering and psychology in my postgraduate studies, I’ve always felt that this sort of cross-disciplinary approach is critical to success when designing medical devices and applications.

Medical Devices and Cybersecurity

The next keynote speaker, Suzanne Schwartz of the FDA, discussed medical devices and cybersecurity. She highlighted security gaps requiring attention, such as:

  • a lack of alignment between stakeholders (i.e. healthcare delivery organizations, medical devices manufacturers, and cybersecurity researchers),
  • a need for cyber solutions for small and large organizations
  • a lack of clear understanding of the impacts of cyber vulnerabilities on patient safety, and
  • a lack of a systems view (a similar theme to the one we heard at the Interaction 16 conference in Helsinki)

She concluded that cybersecurity of medical devices requires a total product life cycle approach, from design to obsolescence, and that stakeholders need to:

  • recognize their role among other stakeholders and develop an understanding of other stakeholders’ constraints and limitations, as well as expertise
  • change the culture of engagement by practicing and upholding appreciative listening
  • make cyber hygiene paramount by defining rules of engagement so that the community works together for the collective good, and
  • create a trusting environment that embodies mutual respect

Human Factors: Focus on Robotics in Healthcare

AnnaMarie Vu from the University of Minnesota touched upon how robots, ones that directly interact with patients, need to have social perception, adaptive behavior and facilitate trust and affinity if they are to succeed. She listed three challenges for robots in healthcare:

  • Research feasibility, efficacy, and acceptability
  • Implementation via training, decision making, and design
  • Ethical considerations such as harm risk and culpability

Again, robots were another hot topic also seen this year in Helsinki at Interaction 16. We’re excited to see more advancements and research in this field, as we experience the adventures of IoT and its impact on UX.

There was also a very interesting talk by Drew Simshaw of the Communications and Technology Clinic, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation about robot regulation. He provoked the audience to think about the question of at what point a robot crosses a threshold and becomes classified as a ‘medical device’. For example, as custodian robots (currently in use in hospitals) slowly evolve and take on more responsibilities, what are those responsibilities? Criteria for this definition include autonomy and human factors such as usage and patient interaction.

Usability of Medical Devices: The Impact of Breakthroughs

In this track, I really loved how Andrea Dwyer, Managing Human Factors Specialist, UL-Wiklund, redefined a medical device breakthrough as more than ‘paradigm shift for industry’. She defined a ‘medical device breakthrough’ as one that is safe and usable and also empowers users to draw on existing knowledge and skills to optimize their performance. Automation and interoperability may also push a medical device to become a breakthrough so that it becomes invisible. For example, a patient monitor displaying information that can be easily and quickly consumed could allow the healthcare worker to focus more on the patient.

This is something that we strive for at Macadamian. We design and build our solutions with the aim of aiding the end user in reaching their goals rather than getting in the way.

Jessica Willing-Pichs, Principal, Research & Product Strategist, Ximedica identified that today’s consumers expect technologies to be enablers that:

  • simplify: e.g. no instruction needed, no assembly
  • accelerate: e.g. decrease in number of steps and time, boost productivity
  • customize: e.g. optimize design to fit lifestyle, empower, delight
  • amplify: e.g. benchmark, and predict behaviors, interpret data into digestible insights and set goals
  • connect: e.g. identify consumer healthcare experience opportunities, encourage peer community

This was a great reminder that products that meaningfully incorporate these concepts are much more likely to succeed than those that do not.

Lasting Impressions

The conference left me with three days of inspiration and a lot of food for thought. It was good to hear academic and industry leaders confirm what I live and breath every day at Macadamian – that attention to user and patient details are good ethics as well as good business.


Our paper on a comparative evaluation of premium ultrasound systems is coming out later this year in the Journal of Medical Devices. The paper discusses comparative usability testing and the types of insights gleaned from executing this type of test (Tosine A and Al-Jaber H. Evaluation of premium ultrasound systems with sonographers: how comparative usability testing can reveal human factors issues prior to errors in the exam room. J. Med Devices. 2016, In Press.).

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