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Researchers show importance of product design in health care field

The Institute of Medicine shocked the nation in 1999 when it released a report indicating that as many as 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable medical errors. When the New England Journal of Medicine delivered a second opinion on the subject in 2010, it found that the situation remained dire.

Today, with a growing web of government regulations making patient outcomes increasingly important to hospitals and other facilities, the need to reduce the number of avoidable mistakes is greater than ever. A team of British researchers recently looked at whether better product design could be part of the answer to this problem. 

The DOME (designing out medical error) project brought together clinicians, psychologists, designers and other experts to study how medical mistakes happen, with the goal of creating innovative devices that could prevent health care professionals from making common errors.

Jonathan West of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design in London was the lead designer on the project. West told Fast Company's Co.Design blog that he had expected to identify a few areas where serious design flaws were blatantly affecting patient outcomes. However, after observing health care operations for a time, he realized that the problem had persisted over the years because of its complexity.

"It's not like an airplane falling out of sky or a nuclear power plant exploding—there's no one big thing," West said. "The process is different for each patient, so the process can go wrong in unique ways, which makes it very hard to tackle in terms of design."

Conceding that there were no opportunities to produce dramatic results in one fell swoop, he began looking for opportunities to design items that would modestly improve workflow by streamlining tasks that needed to be repeated throughout the day. The team produced a number of prototypes, some of which are currently being deployed with considerable success.

At Sozo Design, we know the extent to which an item's design influences its utility, which is why we work closely with our clients to understand what type of product will meet their needs.

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