4 make-or-break considerations for health IoT ecosystems

February 27, 2023

All too often, medical device manufacturers roll out Internet of Things (IoT) devices that struggle to satisfy users and be adopted at scale.

That’s in part because health IoT doesn’t exist in a void. Each device fits into a broader ecosystem that includes other products, user contexts, user perceptions, and more.

Here, we’ll highlight four questions medical device manufacturers can ask to better understand their products’ ecosystems – and show how research partners can help find answers to boost adoption for every product.

How does my device fit into a larger context of use?

When it comes to health IoT, manufacturers rarely design in an empty use environment. There are often multiple user groups involved – and each has their own context. Typically, these groups include:

  1. Patients who are prescribed the device in question (e.g., a blood glucometer or connected scale).
  2. Providers who may rely on medical device data to make real-time care recommendations.
  3. Pharmacists who help educate patients about their prescriptions and the devices that deliver them.

By building an early, foundational understanding of each user group’s context through research, companies can identify challenges that might prevent adoption. 

We use methods like:

  1. Exploratory research. We’ll interview users about their healthcare and technology experiences, both individually and in focus groups.
  2. Ethnography. We’ll try to understand users’ daily lives and their use patterns with technology in a natural setting.
  3. Contextual inquiry. We’ll follow up with users about their behaviors and patterns in a given use environment.

As partners, we help companies flesh out contexts for each user group before introducing a new device – and optimize for usability from the start.

How usable is my device’s physical design?

Imagine a patient who’s been prescribed a new fitness tracker. They’re excited to incorporate it into their diabetes management journey. But when they get home, they realize that their charger relies on micro-USB and USB 3.0 – even though their other devices use USB-C.

For medical devices, the physical design matters a lot – and the wrong design can burden users. If the problem is an outdated connection port, users now have to take extra steps to fit a product into their IoT ecosystem. And it’ll be tough to encourage consistent use and long-term adoption.

But sometimes, the physical design can be more than inconvenient.

Let’s say, for example, that an elderly patient is prescribed a wearable tracking bracelet to alert caregivers of a fall. If the bracelet’s design is too heavy, they may choose to take it off while at home.

The problem: because the device’s physical design doesn’t account for their needs, they’re reluctant to use it. And if they fall indoors, they may be unable to receive urgent medical attention.

Proactive user research can identify challenges like these before bringing a device to market. And that’s what we do best. Our researchers don’t assume what the right physical design looks like. Instead, we talk to users – and help medical device manufacturers leverage these insights to drive adoption.

What digital roadblocks are users facing?

Connected IoT devices often include a digital therapeutic component to guide patients through their disease management, log their progress, and communicate with physicians. But without a streamlined digital experience, users may be reluctant to consistently use the app.

For instance, consider a diabetes patient who’s using a blood glucometer companion app that requires multi-factor authentication (MFA). Different authenticators can have varying impacts on the patient’s experience. Maybe it’s harder to remember a 10-digit passcode versus a four-digit PIN. Or perhaps the patient doesn’t trust biometric authentication because it feels too intrusive.

Our UX researchers help medical device manufacturers account for digital roadblocks at every stage of the design process. Here, our iterative user research approach is key.

In the case of MFA, we’ll likely ask patients about which authenticators feel easiest and most familiar. We’ll user-test different combinations. And we’ll regularly collect user feedback to refine toward a solution. This way, companies can design health IoT devices that function as helpful tools.

How does my device impact users’ emotions?

Health IoT is often used to treat deeply personal – and stigmatized – conditions. For patients, managing care can exact a heavy emotional toll. And the design of a medical device or digital therapeutic can shape that impact.

Let’s return to the example of a diabetes patient. If weight loss is part of their care plan, they might use a smart scale that logs their weight and body composition in a digital health app.

The problem? For many patients, just knowing their weight can create anxiety. And maybe this patient’s scale:

  • Leads with BMI or body fat percentage, which can increase anxiety while they wait to see if their weight’s changed at all.
  • Flashes their weight reading in huge numbers, which can trigger negative emotions about their condition.
  • Beeps loudly after every weigh-in – even when they don’t want housemates to know when they’re on the scale.
  • Color-codes their weight change in the companion app, which can make them feel judged, sad, or frustrated when they haven’t lost weight.

Any combination of design features can negatively impact users’ emotions. But with a human-centered design approach, medical device manufacturers can leverage health IoT as a positive force in users’ lives. 

Here, one of our most comprehensive research methods is longitudinal research. In the case of a diabetes patient, we’ll spend time with them at home and in the clinic to understand their experience with different scales. And over the course of months, we’ll regularly test incremental product changes with them and check in about their experience.

With the right research at the right time, companies can gain direct-from-user insights to create a more caring, effective, safe, and satisfying user experience. 

Designing for health IoT? The right research partner can help

By making these four considerations, medical device manufacturers can consistently deliver products that fit seamlessly into users’ lives. But the key isn’t just considering the above factors – it’s having the right user research to inform design at every stage.

That’s where Bold Insight comes in. Our UX researchers have the industry experience, research methods, and collaborative mindset to help your company extract user insights and boost adoption. Want to learn more about our approach? We’d love to have a conversation.