Annie Diorio-Blum spends a good part of her time trying to get inside people’s heads. From surgical teams in the operating room to patients managing chronic conditions at home, she brings the voice of the end user to the medical device design process.
Annie is a Senior Industrial Designer on the Battelle Human Centric Design team. She has more than 12 years of experience in medical device design and product development. Over the years, she has applied her expertise across every part of the product development cycle, from initial design requirements to human factors testing for FDA submissions. More recently, she has focused her efforts on contextual research to inform the early stages of design and development.
“A lot of times, clients come to us at the end of the design process for final usability testing, but it’s really difficult and expensive to make changes if something major is discovered at this stage of the process,” she explains. “Early-stage user research, especially contextual research, allows us to uncover insights and anticipate user needs that may not be obvious to device designers. These insights can help companies avoid usability issues that have the potential for serious harm and create devices that have better acceptance in the marketplace.”
Over her career, Annie has conducted more than 500 in-depth user interviews as well as numerous focus groups and contextual studies. She has completed moderator training for conducting focus groups, contextual research and in-depth interviews from the RIVA Training Institute. Her contextual research projects have taken her into hospitals, clinics and patients’ homes throughout the U.S., UK and Europe to observe users interacting with devices in their own environment. Her goal with this research is to help designers get inside the user’s head and understand how, when and where they use their devices as well as their needs, preferences, capabilities and barriers to effective use. “I am the voice of the user on the team,” she says. “It’s not easy to put yourself into the mindset of your user population. Engineers tend to design for other engineers, not for an elderly patient with arthritis and vision impairments.”
Annie is involved at every phase of a contextual research project, from developing the research plan to creating the final report for the client. This report turns qualitative data gathered in dozens or hundreds of hours of interviewing and observation into actual design recommendations. Annie’s background in industrial design helps her translate her observations into clear recommendations and product specifications for medical device designers and engineers.
Annie started her career at Battelle as an intern in 2006, shortly after graduating from the Ohio State University with a B.S.D. in Industrial Design. She later spent two years as a Design Research Associate with Lextant. Here, she honed her skills in focus group moderation, ethnographic research and data analysis. At Lextant, she worked across numerous industries, including medical devices, military, automotive and website/interface design. She returned to Battelle in 2011 to focus exclusively on the medical device field. “The work in medical devices is very challenging and rewarding,” she says. “I learn something new every day about what it is like to live with challenging medical conditions. And I am in a position to help people by guiding the development of devices that can make their lives easier.”
Since rejoining Battelle, Annie has been involved in dozens of research projects, including both early-stage research and summative human factors studies. Her experience in the healthcare industry includes injection devices, medication packaging, surgical implements and diagnostic devices. Recent projects have included a surgical helmet used during orthopedic surgery, a surgical skin prep applicator and medication packaging design for a weight-loss medicine with some non-traditional administration steps. She also has experience in graphic design focusing on information graphics for instructions for use (IFU) and quick reference guides (QRG).
Sometimes, her research results in unexpected findings that uncover new opportunities for clients or prevent them from wasting time and money on efforts unlikely to be successful. In one study, a client came to Battelle for help in designing new packaging that would make their clinical skin care products more appealing to patients for use at home after hospital discharge. Annie convinced them to take a step back and look more holistically at patient needs in the home environment. Her research illuminated several barriers to home use of the products—including high levels of poverty among their patient population, poor access to preventative healthcare and mobility issues—that updated packaging would not be able to address. Ultimately, the company switched their focus from packaging design to strategies to improve access among their target users.
Moving forward, Annie sees the industry moving towards more focus on connected health applications, including mHealth apps and connected medical devices. “People are doing more healthcare in their homes, including procedures like infusions that once were limited to a clinic environment,” she says. “With new technologies, there is a lot of opportunity to help patients better manage chronic conditions such as MS, diabetes or chronic pain at home, while maintaining a connection to their healthcare providers. We are also seeing more use of apps and devices that make it easier for all patients to access healthcare, such as a mobile app that allows parents to send videos or other information directly to the pediatrician to enable remote diagnosis. As we expand these frontiers, contextual and human factors research will be critical to ensure that these new apps and devices are fully meeting the needs of patients and not introducing new risks.”
Annie is a member of the Human Factors Ergonomics Society (HFES) and the Parenteral Drug Association (PDA). She is a frequent blogger for MD&DI and has presented at a number of industry conferences. Read her latest blog on Med Device Online: Six Mistakes to Avoid During Contextual User Research.