Thoughts on pal. – a redesigned intravenous infusion pump

Recently we shared a link to a website which showcases an interesting take on the physical design of an intravenous drug pump. Andrew Kim, a student from the Art Centre College of Design in Los Angeles, worked on a project to redesign drug infusion pumps so that they “treat patients, not conditions”and came up with a design called pal.

Dom Furniss, who has been undertaking research within wards seeing how the currently available pumps are actually being used by nurses, shared his thoughts on this disruptive design.

“I’m not sure it’d be great on most wards as it’d break the nurses’ backs bending down all the time. So there should be an easier way of setting it up without bending down. More importantly and harder to get around I think: nurses often use the bags as direct feedback on the progress of medication, particularly towards the end of the treatment, and I think it is important to see the drip chamber – this gives direct feedback that it is infusing correctly and [provides a] rough estimate of rate, rather than relying on what the pump is telling you indirectly.

I don’t know much about the physics but I thought the bag had to be higher than the patient? Perhaps it depends on the pumping mechanism. Having it lower would prevent the risk of freeflow (i.e. when the bag empties into the patient quickly because there isn’t anything to stop it e.g. the roller clamp or a pump controlling flow).

I’d imagine it’d be nicer for patients to wheel around compared to the current model, but perhaps most appropriate for mobile and home use. Currently, I think some patients have the bag and device in a rucksack – surely a rucksack would be more convenient than pulling this around as you’d have your hands free? Or if it could be easily changed into something you could carry in a rucksack that would be good (and this would accommodate different mobility requirements). Going the other way there could be an argument to make the dripstand bigger and more rugged so frailer patients can use it as support – similar to a Zimmer frame – I think frailer patients use the current style for support sometimes.

The comment from the Mum is interesting as she thinks it would suit children well – bit more fun and hides the serious stuff. I’d imagine it might feel ominous having the traditional tower over you all the time and a reminder of your treatment/condition. One of the only negative comments is by a patient who thinks it is a daft idea and all they really care about is getting better.

I like that they’ve broken the design assumption that the controls need to be placed alongside the pumping mechanism. Once this is broken then we could have wireless connectivity too – perhaps so patients can check how their infusion is doing on their iPhone app, have a nicer display, have better help trouble shooting issues, etc. The displays and info for the patient are likely to be quite different compared to the clinician’s needs. ‘Putting the patient in the loop’ could really improve error detection too, as it’s another set of eyes on what’s going on.

Are colour touchscreen displays just around the corner for intravenous pumps?”

See the original pal. design here.

This is just one voice in reaction to this interesting and novel infusion pump design. Perhaps the biggest contribution of such conceptual designs are that they break assumptions, rules and disrupt accepted traditions. This gets people talking, and thinking… we hope others will contribute to the ongoing discussions around these issues too. What do you think?

Taking on board principles of UCD (user-centred design) the real test is how users react to it: e.g. do they like it, can they use it well, what user problems does it solve and what new user issues does it create? What specific user groups does this suit (e.g. kids?) and who doesn’t it suit? What contexts does it suit (e.g. home?) and what contexts doesn’t it suit? Through user research we can find out the answer to these questions.  

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