“For medical devices, it always comes down to: Is it usable or not?” said Frank Drews, professor of psychology and director of hfMEDIC. “And if something is not usable, well, you don't use it. That has a huge impact on the effectiveness of treatment.”
Just as user interface/user experience experts work to make tech experiences easier to use, researchers in human factors work to improve the usability of biomedical devices with the aim to reduce adverse outcomes such as errors.
In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began issuing guidance for human factors and usability engineering for new devices. Some large manufacturers employed product development engineers, while academic researchers in the field worked somewhat independently. Mid-sized manufacturers may not be able to devote resources to full-time engineers, however. That’s where hfMEDIC comes in. The consortium connects the needs of the industry with the expertise of a network of researchers.
“We are trying to really organize a concerted effort,” Drews commented, “addressing these problems where right now all of the device manufacturers are just doing it by themselves.”
At the University of Utah, Drews is joined by Andrew Merryweather, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and director of the Ergonomics and Safety Program. His team includes graduate and undergraduate student researchers and engineers.
Adding Expertise and Expanding Opportunity
The addition of Rice University brings expertise to hfMEDIC, particularly that of researcher Pat DeLucia.
“It's really increasing our resource base,” Drews continued. “Having another pool of potential members in Texas and pulling from a larger pool of graduate students and undergraduate students.” The students gain valuable experience, he said, that can translate into a career in human factors engineering in industry.
"I am excited about joining hfMEDIC and working with Frank Drews, who is a leader in the field," DeLucia said. "Being a consortium member gives faculty and students at Rice opportunities to work with industry and government partners to improve medical devices and other components of heath care, and ultimately to enhance patient safety."