Micah Bongberg: What Can Amazon Teach Us About AEDs?

I was recently inspired by Dr. Konkani’s AAMIBlog post, “Applying User Experience and Design Thinking to Medical Device Design.” The importance of implementing, iterating, and continuously improving medical devices is vital to the health and safety of our communities. But, not only is it the “right” thing to do, it’s becoming a customer expectation.

Dr. Konkani brings up the varying customers at the table in cases of medical devices, from the physicians that use them to the patients on whom they’re used. All have valuable input to share to make the device better and easier to operate. Unfortunately, it’s rare for medical device manufacturers to ask for, and listen to, their feedback.

A stronger case can’t be made to support this logic than with automated external defibrillators (AED units). Technically, AEDs are Class III medical devices, subject to full premarket approval (including human factors testing for “trained” and “untrained” users). But, by definition, AED machines are accessible to, and built for, the use of lay responders with little-to-no medical training. Thus, AEDs are a medical device falling under the most stringent device classification, but they’re sold and placed in the hands of the lay public due to their safety and effectiveness. No other device comes to mind that involves these varying layers of user types. And, no other device warrants the feedback from such a broad audience.

AED device manufacturers’ knee-jerk reaction must be that they apply UX to their design, including within their PMA submission; thus they’ve met the appropriate standards of UX testing. The issue of this logic is that customer experiences change over time, and what may have been a suitable solution in the past may no longer be relevant in the present day.

For example, how many of you use the same cell phone today as you did in 2002? Why should we expect customer experiences from 2002 to optimally meet the needs of users in 2020? Developing and commercializing a medical device isn’t easy. It also isn’t cheap. Manufacturers will cite the cost as a barrier to innovation and incorporating new technology into their products.

The Amazon example, cited in Dr. Konkani’s post, is particularly apt.

Amazon spares no expense focusing on its central leadership principle: customer obsession. Why else would they spend billions of dollars on drones, next day shipping, and selling products at (or below) cost? Why aren’t they pleased with the status quo, and why do they continue to push their team to “think big” (another of its leadership principles)?

Amazon’s thesis is that with happy customers—no, ecstatic customers—sales and profits will come to fruition and materialize. It stands to reason that medical device manufacturers might benefit from viewing the world through a similar lens. After all, it seemed to work out OK for Amazon.

Michael Bongberg is vice president of commercialization at Avive Solutions.

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