Public engagement is embedded in the EPSRC-funded CHI+MED project (in fact if you look at the publicly available PDF version of our application form you can see this very clearly, use Ctrl+F [PC] or Command F [Macs] to search for “public engagement”). We want (and need) to work with a variety of different groups of people in order to achieve our aim of “Making medical devices safer”.
Changes to medical devices are unlikely to happen in isolation and may also mean changes in the culture in which those devices are used. There has to be a good reason to make changes (it costs money) and so robust evidence is needed that investing in amending devices can lead to fewer mistakes (the result of some of those can cost the health, or life, of patients – and also be very costly).
The research that CHI+MED is producing cannot be fully useful unless we can convince people of its benefits. However simply telling people to make our recommended changes is unlikely to be successful or well-received. Without working closely with the people who design devices, the people who regulate their acceptance onto the market, the people who decide which of the devices to buy for their hospital and the people who use them (nurses and patients) then any suggestions we make won’t be relevant.
We need to understand the constraints on the people that are making, regulating, buying and using these devices – and take account of this when we put forward our recommendations.
We are also working with the wider public, to challenge perceptions about medical errors and the issue of blame. For example when a nurse unplugged Jamie Merrett’s life support system and struggled to reconnect the power supply (worsening Jamie’s condition significantly) both the nurse and the agency that employed her were blamed for the mistake – but much less attention was given to the design of the life support machine. Improvements here could have made it much harder for the system to have been accidentally unplugged (or made much easier to restart in case of an accidental switchoff).
For the last couple of years we’ve explored error and blame with school-aged visitors to Brighton Science Festival using microwaves and clock radios. Getting kids to try and use these everyday devices (without any instructions) gets across quite nicely the point that if a device is difficult to use it might not be the user’s fault – improvements in design can make devices easier to use. It also helps us make the point that if everyday devices are causing problems for users, then what about lifesaving devices used in hospitals.
Earlier this year the CHI+MED project set aside some money to encourage our researchers in the development of new public engagement projects that can help in raising awareness of human factors and the design of medical devices. We have just awarded our first of these internal CHI+MED public engagement grants.
Congratulations to Peter McOwan who’s based at Queen Mary, University of London – we’ve awarded him £5,000 to work with software / app designer Ed Burton to create a smartphone app called “My mistake?”. This will be launched later in the year through QApps, Queen Mary’s apps store, and is a game that will let players create a graphical interface (and test interfaces made by other players) that can perform lifesaving medical tasks. The errors generated by the creation of interfaces (and also when others try and use the created interfaces) will give CHI+MED researchers useful information.
Congratulations also to Dom Furniss and Sandy Gould who are based at UCLIC (the UCL Interaction Centre) – we’ve awarded them just under £1,700 to add some features to the already popular Errordiary tool. Errordiary makes use of the Twitter hashtag #errordiary to collect examples of people’s everyday errors, both as a way of highlighting that we all make mistakes but also as a teaching tool. The next stage for Errordiary is to involve nurses, people with diabetes and the general public in sharing their own examples of errors – some of the money awarded will go towards incentives and prizes for getting involved.
There’ll be more on these projects later…