Different from a Needs Assessment that focuses on identifying areas where innovations are needed, market assessments look for potential uses for a new technology on a basis of “if you had it, would you use it?” The W21C conducts use research techniques such as focus groups and stakeholder interviews to understand if a new product has a potential market. The results of these assessments can help companies potentially identify new markets for their technologies or target specific user groups for further research.
Randomized Controlled Trial
Randomized clinical trials (or RCTs) are very much like clinical trials except that once study participants have been screened and recruited, they are randomly assigned to one or another treatment condition (e.g., standard of care vs. new technology). The main advantage of an RCT over a clinical trial is that the randomization minimizes the potential for findings to be due to factors other than the innovation being tested. W21C researchers have considerable experience designing, managing, and conducting RCTs with proven publication success.
Clinical Pilot Testing
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that generate quantitative results and feedback about health-related procedures, devices, and systems. Researchers at the W21C have expertise and experience to set up, manage, and conduct clinical trials of new health technology interventions. The results of these trials are typically compiled into publishable research papers that can then be used to support the wide-spread adoption of health care innovations.
The W21C conducts economic analyses to identify cost benefits associated with health care innovations. These benefits can be quantified in terms of their impact on the health care system (e.g., reduction in length of hospital stay, reduced chance of re-admittance, reduced rates of infection, or elimination of costly procedures or tests). The results of these analyses can then be used to support the adoption of health care innovations across a unit, a hospital, or even an entire health care system.
Ensuring innovations are compatible with current practices increases their likelihood and ease of adoption by minimizing any disruptive impact and fostering positive attitudes among the user population. One of the best ways to understand what is involved in a particular job or environment is to observe those individuals actually involved in the work. With ethnographic observation (also known as observational studies or field studies) W21C researchers act as a “fly on the wall,” observing behaviors, interactions, work cultures, and workflows in a particular area or task. These observations can help companies and researchers better understand the context and existing workflow surrounding the intended innovative product idea or intervention. The end result is a product or process that is optimized for adoption and integration with the target population and environment.
Human Factors Simulation
Some research questions may benefit from the evaluation of systems or devices in realistic environments. In order to create, manipulate, and observe realistic interactions between individuals, technology, and systems it is often necessary to use simulation (e.g., evaluating surgical technologies in the early development phase). The W21C’s state of the art Human Factors Simulation laboratory offers a highly-adaptable observational environment that can be configured to create realistic scenarios and spaces that are comparable to actual healthcare environments (i.e., through the use of physician informed patient simulation, flexible room architecture, high resolution video and audio recording, and integrated data collection and analysis). The use of simulation can provide a comprehensive view of any health technology or system in the context of the intended use environment and population at any stage of the technology development process.
Usability testing is a research technique for evaluating a device, software, or product’s “ease of use” by observing real users completing typical tasks. This research technique can be used at all stages of product development. Finding and fixing usability problems early in the product development process is more cost effective than addressing them at later stages, and results in a more effective product. Usually, users are asked to "talk-out-loud" as they work through pre-determined tasks, allowing observers to better understand what the participant is thinking, doing, feeling, etc. Typical findings include design issues that: impede task completion, violate user expectations, or contribute to knowledge loss in the cross-domain communication of information between health care providers and product developers.
Educational Material Assessment
Ideally, medical device and health care related software should be so easy to use that they do not need user manuals, tutorials, or other instructive documentation. Because this is not always possible, educational materials and help guides need to be developed effectively to assist individuals during interactions with new technologies. Researchers at the W21C employ a variety of research methods (e.g., focused usability testing, expert review) to assess these materials to ensure that they are effective.
Interactive observation (or contextual inquiry) involves a researcher taking on the role of apprentice and actively observing / interviewing participants while they perform tasks in their normal environment. Contextual inquiry allows researchers to interactively develop knowledge about specific tasks in a participant’s environment with real materials and situations. These findings can then be used to inform product design (e.g., enhance usability and utility) and create more user-friendly technologies to enhance the likelihood of product adoption in health care settings.
Participatory design involves including health care providers and staff in the design process to highlight design issues with devices or processes. W21C researchers can tap into this wealth of knowledge and insight by conducting participatory design sessions where the users draw, construct, and describe prototypes of their ideal design solutions. These sessions often result in rich user feedback and have the potential to inspire innovative health care solutions.
Expert Review (Heuristic Evaluation)
In an expert review, human factors and usability experts examine product designs against a set of standardized usability guidelines to identify design issues that may negatively impact the user experience during product interaction (e.g., poorly designed user interfaces). By incorporating expert evaluations early in an iterative product development process, usability issues can be resolved early on, potentially resulting in cost and development effort savings. These expert evaluations resolve most usability issues before conducting focused (domain-specific) usability testing sessions with real users.
Structured Literature Review
Structured literature reviews are an effective way of examining and summarizing the background research and current state of a particular topic. The W21C conducts structured literature reviews for clients, companies, and fellow researchers alike. Our process includes the development of a literature search strategy, followed by the structured search, and a careful synthesis of the information to create the final report providing comprehensive knowledge integration.
Systematic reviews are similar to structured literature reviews but are exhaustive in the identification, evaluation, selection, and synthesis of all the high-quality research evidence related to a specific health care topic. These reviews follow a specific scientific methodology and are generally considered more rigorous.
Focus groups are used to gather qualitative information (e.g., viewpoints or opinions) from relevant user groups (e.g., health care providers or patients) about specific health care issues, innovative product ideas, or health care delivery protocols. These focus groups usually involve 6-12 participants and are moderated by the W21C’s highly trained researchers. Results of focus groups typically include a greater understanding of complex health care issues and/or the participants’ perception of products and processes.
Targeted Stakeholder Interviews
Talking to individuals with experience, knowledge, or insight into a particular health care situation can reveal important factors that companies need to consider when designing health care innovations. The W21C conducts targeted stakeholder interviews to gain an in-depth understanding on a variety of topics including identifying issues and concerns, and uncovering differing agendas associated with a particular existing technology or health delivery system.
Surveys and Questionnaires
Surveys and questionnaires are an easily-distributed way to gather a variety of information about people (e.g., demographics, attitudes towards health care related products and services, and/or previous experiences with specific health care technologies). The information gathered through surveys and questionnaires can be used to target new products and inform further product design (e.g., by creating personas and user scenarios) and evaluation techniques (e.g., target specific groups of people for usability testing). Surveys and questionnaires can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a program or technology. The W21C’s multi-disciplinary research team has expertise in effectively developing and analyzing surveys and questionnaires based on customer needs.
A needs assessment seeks to discover potential areas of innovation by talking to targeted groups of people to find out where they see a need for improvement and innovation. These assessments can also establish if there is a real need for a new product idea before further investments are made in the product. The W21C conducts these assessments using a combination of research techniques, including focus groups, interviews, ethnographic observation, and participatory interviews. The results of these assessments can then be used by innovators as strategic starting points for health care innovations.
Developing comprehensive knowledge of competing technologies is an integral step in assessing a product’s impact, from both a market and health care perspective. Not only does an analysis of competitor’s products help companies identify areas of opportunity and knowledge to position their own product, competitive analyses can also provide useful insight into the usability of similar products. By identifying what works well and what does not, a company can know what to avoid and what to strive for in developing their own products. Researchers at the W21C conduct these competitive analyses and apply research methods such as expert evaluation or usability testing on competitive products.