Within the context of chronic conditions, the administration of the therapy is often performed by the patient. As a consequence, home-use devices for self-treatment, such as inhalers, nebulisers, auto-injector pens or blood pressure kits must be functionally reliable, as well as easy to use for patients with little to no prior experience in performing such tasks. Usability is especially critical in this case, as misuse errors and non-compliance to therapy over time may be detrimental to the long term health of the patient. This is particularly challenging for designers because many chronic conditions have associated health issues, such as reduced dexterity and poor visual acuity that have a direct impact on device usability.
Image credit: Adobe Stock
Understanding the issues in context is paramount
However, functionality and usability are merely half the battle. No matter how functional and usable a device is, it cannot overcome issues such as patient non-adherence to a treatment regime, attitudes, and emotions towards a condition or motivations to improving quality of life. In order to develop therapies that are more aligned to the real needs of patients, there is a need to understand these less tangible aspects of human behaviour. By broadening the outlook to understand more about human behaviour and the patient experience and supplementing traditional market research with qualitative approaches, a more comprehensive understanding of patients is possible. This understanding can then be used to drive innovations that can genuinely improve the lives of patients.
More than market research…
Many traditional market research approaches involve quantitative analysis of patient behaviours or qualitative assessments of design prototypes/scenarios in a focus group situation. These approaches offer excellent guidance regarding the current ‘status quo’ in the market place or how to refine a design. However, they do not lend themselves to offering new and innovative insights into the way patients actually behave and think in a real world context.
By utilising research methods, such as ethnography and semiotics, designers and researchers are now offering pharmaceutical companies and medical device developers new ways of understanding patients and the challenges that they face when suffering from certain conditions. These methods are usually qualitative in their nature, involving small sample sizes, with a focus on the experiences, emotions and attitudes of the patients. The key objective is to identify the unarticulated and unmet needs of patient groups in order to develop new opportunities and to improve existing products.
By studying small samples of patients, in context and at depth, researchers and designers are able to develop a strong sense of empathy and understanding of the issues that patients face day to day. Furthermore, outside of a focus group situation or a formal interview, patients are more relaxed, honest and open to discussion. Unlike more traditional market research methods (e.g., surveys), small sample sizes cannot offer data that lends itself to statistical validation regarding the trends and patterns that are identified.
However, it is necessary to understand the context and rationale behind this type of research. This type of research is exploratory in its nature, the objective is to identify and focus in on patterns, trends and outliers within the data. It is also critical to understand that these methods are not intended to replace existing market research techniques, but can be used in a composite approach to supplement more mainstream market research.
The qualitative research output is often used to drive and inspire designers during creative sessions where new product and service opportunities are identified and developed. At these early stages of the process, the critical objective is to explore as many avenues as possible and to generate broad-ranging ideas from incremental to long term.
Later on in the process, more formal techniques can be employed to start to evaluate concepts and establish their ‘fit’ to the more general marketplace. After the research phase, methods such as co-designing and creative workshops can then be employed to bring all of the stakeholders together to creatively explore, define and solve the challenges and issues that have been identified within the research.
Image credit: Stock
One of the primary aspects to understand about adopting such approaches is that they are a much more collaborative experience than more traditional methods of market research, often requiring a higher level of involvement from the client. All research will start with an alignment meeting where it is vital that the objectives of the research are defined and understood. On these occasions, several stakeholders will be involved, in order to give their input into the process.
Such approaches may seem to place an additional burden on client involvement; however, in our experience, this involvement has its long term benefits. By being involved first hand in collecting and analysing data, clients tend to understand and champion the patient perspective to a greater extent; involvement in the creative process also often leaves the stakeholders feeling fully engaged in the development process and in creating tangible outcomes. PDD has been successfully following such approaches for over 70 projects within the past recent years in order to innovate and validate devices supporting treatment of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer, Asthma, COPD, GHD, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc.