Linda Harley: Balancing Abilities and Product Demands in Home Health

With increasing medical costs, an aging population, and the desire of older adults to age in place, the demand for in-home healthcare technologies is growing by gigantic leaps and bounds. This is due in part to revolutionary technologies, such as the WiiFit, Kinect, smartphones, and other mobile devices. These breakthrough technologies and many others make it affordable to use commercial over the shelf (COTS) products in new solutions to assess and monitor individuals in new environments.

Home health offers a unique opportunity with unique challenges in terms of the myriad of stakeholders, environment, technology, policy, and more. Much of this is unchartered territory for the healthcare industry; yet by partnering with the stakeholders, great accomplishments await. Besides the care receiver who will interact with the product, there is also the care giver, medical staff (doctors, hospital, and pharmacy), policy makers, industry, and researchers. These stakeholders have varying backgrounds, mental models of how things should operate, and unique demands on what information needs to be obtained from the technology. In order to meet the needs of all these stakeholders, it is of vital importance to conduct human factors engineering. This will assist in assessing the stakeholders’ requirements, and ensure a universal design in the final product.

The home environment also presents unique obstacles. There are a variety of home types: ranch, two story, condominiums, apartments, independent-care housing, and nursing homes. The homes may be cluttered or with an open plan, which will affect the size, mobility, and location of products within the home. There may or may not be wireless connection within the home. A Georgia Tech HomeLab study (350 older adults, age 50+ located in Atlanta) found that 25% of participants did not own a computer or have broad band internet connection. These factors dictate the type of decisions that are made in procuring or designing technology to deploy into the home.

What are the abilities of older adults? This question is asked frequently in the design process in order to identify design constraints that are specific to the end-user. For example, from the Georgia Tech HomeLab research we know that: 62.8% are overweight or obese, more than 80% have glasses, and 43% use six to 10 medications per day. By understanding the abilities of the older adults, and evaluating the tasks associated with a product, human factors engineers are able to determine the usability of the product and make recommendations for improvements.

At the upcoming AAMI 2013 Conference & Expo, I will be discussing the opportunities for home medical devices and investigate design constraints from a human systems engineering approach. The planned session is called, “Aging in Place: Bringing Medical Devices into the Home—The Role of the Healthcare Technology Manager.” The topics mentioned above and many other key factors will be discussed and evaluated in this session. The challenge to be successful in this uncharted environment is to bring together multidisciplinary teams: engineers, policy makers, medical staff, and the lay people who will be the end users.  Let’s work together to make a difference today!

Linda Harley, PhD

Research Scientist II

Human Systems Engineering Branch

Georgia Tech Research Institute

Personal Website:

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