On a hospital floor, you’ll find monitors everywhere you turn—basic monitors, arterial line monitors, intercranial monitors—all computer systems keeping a watchful eye on patients’ hearts rates, blood pressure, oxygen levels while administering antibiotics, adjusting beds for optimal comfort and much more.

These computers and their user interfaces (UIs) are providing real-time information for nurses, doctors and medical professionals monitoring critical situations. While all these monitors display different information, they all have one thing in common: a UI that needs to be easy to use and meticulously accurate.

The design considerations for medical device UIs are significant. For example, a hospital ward is staffed by a diverse team of medical professionals from different backgrounds and generations who must all be able to walk into any room to deliver critical care from the same monitors and medical devices. Most UIs utilize a touch screen—which is great for Millennial and Gen Z medical professionals who grew up using computers. Medical device developers must consider older medical professionals who may not be as comfortable with touch technology.

medical monitor in operating room

One method for improved usability into their medical devices is by utilizing common iconography and colors. Hospital staff know that heart lines are red, pulse oximeter is blue, respiratory rates are yellow and so on. Nurses and doctors need to be able to walk into the room, take care of the patient and see the information in a clear way and timely manner.

As you can see, these mission-critical devices need more than just a pretty interface. Designers and developers must make certain that these UIs will ensure that their users will not fail.

Medical devices and user experience
Alarms and their sounds are the primary notification method when it comes to medical facilities. Surgeons spends most of their time looking down at the patient, not necessarily up at screens, so the sounds a monitor makes are crucial to signal exactly what is going on with that patient.

The noise and degree a sound makes can also determine the severity of a patient’s status so that it draws attention quickly. For example, soft alarms may go off to let the nurse know a medicine is fully distributed while a loud alarm, also known as a lethal alarm, would sound if the heart rate reaches lower than 90 beats per minute (BPM). The user interfaces require that lethal alarms be manually turned off in the patient’s room—these cannot be disarmed from a central nursing station.

This is where user experience (UX) comes into the picture. When responding to alarms, medical professionals are accustomed to touch screens, but lethal alarms can only be silenced with a physical knob. We asked medical professionals what UI they prefer, and the answers varied depending on the situation. Most nurses default to the touch screen option when interacting with a display, however, some buttons are strategically placed to make it easier to disarm in a timely situation. Buttons need to be at the bottom of the monitor for quick engagement, especially when multitasking or leaning over the patient to check their vitals.

Current medical UI trends and features
Haptics are on the rise with medical devices. When administering medications, a nurse must pull up an electric medical record and use a scanner (like what you’d find at a grocery store checkout) and scan the patient’s identification bracelet. When the scan is successful, the scanner vibrates, providing confirmation that this patient should receive the corresponding medication. If the medication and correlating patient do not line up, an error message and different vibration occur. The positive and negative feedback provide an extra level of safety in such situations.

Additionally, biometric security is helping medical professionals disseminate high level drugs. A nurse must use their fingerprint to get into locked medicine drawers, while a second nurse will also scan their fingerprint to confirm the correct medication and number of pills were pulled. Biometric security measures in this instance are not only helpful to make sure the patient receives the correct medication, but also helps with hospital security.

medical tablet with touch screenImproving medical UIs
When asked how medical devices and monitors could be enhanced, the number one answer was connectivity. Currently, all machines are hooked up to cords. It is super tenuous when the patient is a child or needs to move often, so wireless devices would aid in overall patient comfort and ease of care. Additionally, Bluetooth capabilities and over-the-air (OTA) updates would be huge improvements in patient care.

Our medical experts brought up alarm fatigue when dealing with multiple medical devices. Because the alarms tend not to have customization capabilities, the alarms go off when an IV is empty, for example. These alarms can often wake up the patient or cause alarm for parents, family members or pediatric patients. One respondent suggested wearables as a solution. If they could receive a notification to a watch or device on their person that the medication was complete, then it wouldn’t cause unnecessary alarm in the patient’s room.

Lastly, to help with infection control, there could be improvements to current medical devices that require a code to be typed into it. Instead of degloving, typing in a code, putting on a new set of gloves, what if the device had a retina scan or voice recognition? If the doctor could say their name and the device recognize them, it would be safer and quicker to access lifesaving materials. Also, gestures could be a huge enhancement, especially when wearing gloves during procedures.

Altia Software and Services for Medical UIs
Medical devices are crucial to patient safety and critical to medical professionals doing their jobs. The user interfaces need to be easy to understand and operate by medical professionals of all ages in life-threatening situations. The next generation of these devices should include advanced technology to limit infection spread and be designed with the user—both doctor and patient—experience in mind.

Altia works with medical device companies—like Medtronic and Tandem Diabetes Care—providing software and professional engineering services for getting high-performance, fail-safe UIs to production. Want to learn more about Altia for medical devices? Check out our latest medical demo.