Improving patient experience

Medical Technology Design as a Strategic Success Factor in Hospitals and Practices

5 min
Susanne Bay
Published on March 26, 2019

Clinical staff and patients no longer see medical devices as merely technology with medical functions. They want to enjoy using the technology and are seeking a holistic product experience.

“Medical devices just have to work and be able to be operated without any errors.” Anyone who still holds this attitude when purchasing medical technology has clearly missed some major trends in the healthcare sector. High-quality design has become a key factor in procurement decisions. And this is not simply because good design improves functionality and makes it easier to integrate the device into hospital workflows. It’s also because “joy of use” has become an important criterion. This means that medical staff, from doctors to medical technologists, must be enthusiastic about a new high-tech device and enjoy working with it. Medical devices that fill people with enthusiasm can make it easier to recruit and retain employees. This is one side of the trend.

On the other side, we have the new expectations that patients place on the hospitals to which they are admitted. Modern exterior architecture and interior design are no longer the only factors that matter – the appearance of the medical devices also counts. For example, a device with multiple buttons and controls risks unsettling the patient who is being examined. He or she might worry that the technical staff cannot possibly fully master a device that looks this complex. If these kinds of challenges and requirements linked to the use of medical technology are to receive sufficient attention at the product design stage, designers must be willing to engage with medical staff and patients. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for hospitals with cutting-edge, patient-friendly medical technology to use it as a way of publicly promoting themselves.

Medical product design, however, must comply with tough standards on fitness for purpose. National organizations, such as TÜV in Germany and the FDA in the United States, check that devices meet these standards. The aim is to make sure that products are safe for patients and users, and to rule out human error (such as treatment errors). Then there are design guidelines on usability. The idea here is that users should be able to operate the medical products effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily. In healthcare, the main aim is to reduce time and costs via optimized processes and accuracy, while increasing reliability and the quality of the results. Usability guidelines also stipulate that designers should orient products toward human capabilities so that they eliminate or at least minimize physical and mental strain.

Another key criterion is that the devices must offer uniform, consistent handling so that employees can work efficiently and flexibly at different workstations within a department. This is the finding of an internal study carried out by Siemens Healthineers, in which healthcare industry representatives were consulted on issues such as managing fleets of medical devices. Siemens Healthineers, for instance, guarantees product consistency and coherence through internal design guidelines and the use of a single software.

Design rules make sense and are important in allowing the medtech sector to manufacture safe, userfriendly products that fulfil their purpose. Yet, medical devices cannot win over patients and staff with functionality alone. Nowadays, aesthetics and attractiveness are undoubtedly distinct factors that can make interacting with technology a joy. This area concerns the physical design of a system or object – aspects such as the visual, acoustic, tactile, and haptic qualities of a software or hardware interface. In other words, we are talking about forms, colors, materials, and static as well as dynamic features. An inviting design can bridge the emotional and physical distance between a person and an examination device. New kinds of stimulation from, say, a mood light or images, can deliberately help steer the patient’s focus. The right choice of materials and design can make interacting with control elements a pleasant tactile experience. Marks of quality showing that a device is made of high-grade material are useful for expressing a medical institution’s own high standards.

According to researchers at Princeton, it takes us just one tenth of a second to make our minds up about other people.[1] We’re even faster online: Website users need just 50 milliseconds to decide if they like a website and want to stay on it.[2] The critical factors here are colors, forms, symmetry, and visual complexity. A design’s attractiveness therefore plays a crucial role in whether or not all stakeholders accept the system. It can immediately create positive experiences – for patients, for technical staff, and for the directors of medical facilities. To achieve this, Siemens Healthineers applies internal design guidelines to designing devices, software interfaces, icons, packaging, and communication materials. This allows us to create an all-round, high-quality product experience using a single design language that expresses our brand promise across all customer touchpoints with our systems.

So are usability and aesthetics the core qualities that will win over staff and patients? Not quite. A positive experience of using the system is also key – which is why designers have to consider the concept of user experience. This term covers the experiences that a person has before, during, and after interacting with a product or service. It takes account of subjective, emotional, and social aspects.

ARTIS pheno, for instance, is a robotic-assisted angiography system primarily used in surgical environments. Besides fulfilling hygienic and safety requirements, the challenge for Siemens Healthineers was to give this powerful machine an appearance that would build trust among both users and patients. The system had to look friendly and safe, but it also had to show that this is a precise and sophisticated medical device. The solution? Clear-cut forms that allow observers to easily survey and understand the system’s configuration. The robot was deliberately designed to move in a calm, steady way. The result is an impressive sculpture whose movements are an elegant combination of power and grace.

Designers have changed the way they perceive technology. They now design technology for users by placing the users, their problems, and their needs at the start of the process. This human-centered design combines user experience and design thinking. Design thinking is a structured approach to solving problems and generating innovation. Users’ motives and needs are the starting point for developing ideas and innovation. The solutions are developed and optimized iteratively through multiple prototypes and feedback loops with users. This integrated approach to product design includes the workflows used by clinical employees, their own personal experience, and the patients’ experience.

Radiology technologists, for instance, often say that they want to be able to stay closer to their patients while they work. After engaging intensively and globally with this user group, Siemens Healthineers developed SOMATOM go., a new computed tomography platform. Its tablet-operated mobile workflow allows medical employees to put patients at the heart of their work. To increase patient comfort even further, the scanners also offer special lighting and light projections. These can help children overcome their fear of the device, for example.

In the coming years, new technologies, increasing automation, and artificial intelligence will radically change the tasks that medical employees perform. Applying human-centered design to medical technology can help strategically shape the work so that humans can make optimal use of their abilities, and the machines can take over subtasks without forcing the operator to relinquish all control.

In this sense, design becomes a strategy and involves a great deal more than simply creating a visual appearance. If a company considers user experience as a fundamental part of product development, adjusts its organization accordingly, and concentrates on the experience it provides to users and customers, it will be more successful. Studies back this up: The consultancy firm Gartner rates customer centricity as one of the most important trends for 2018 and 2019.[3]

Today’s technical staff and patients want to enjoy interacting with medical technology. The devices must therefore combine usability, aesthetics, and user experience to achieve a holistic product experience. This has the potential to raise employee satisfaction and retention rates, improve patient wellbeing, and secure long-term success for healthcare providers.


By Susanne Bay
Susanne Bay, PhD is Head of Strategy and Innovation for Design and User Experience at Siemens Healthineers.