Interactive Medical Devices Research New Grant Funding

A research group headed by University College London Professor of Human–Computer Interaction Ann Blandford has received a $9.7 million, six-year grant to study the design and safe use of interactive medical devices. Blandford, who is director of the UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC), serves at principal investigator for the research and will be working with co-applicants from the FIT lab at Swansea, the Department of Computer Science at Queen Mary, University of London, and the Centre for HCI Design at City University. The grant is titled “CHI+MED: Multidisciplinary Computer-Human Interaction research for the design and safe use of interactive medical devices.”

The work will employ three to four researchers and three Ph.D. students at UCLIC, along with similar numbers at Swansea and Queen Mary. UCLIC is the leading UK Centre of Excellence in Human-Computer Interaction, and Blandford’s extensive bibliography includes numerous technical papers on that topic from the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and other journals.

The grant was awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the British government’s leading funding agency for research and training in engineering and the physical sciences. The work began Oct. 1, 2009, is scheduled to end Sept. 30, 2015, with a value of 5,792,050 pounds, or about $9,683,000.

The research is focused on patient safety. Reliance on interactive medical devices is growing both in clinical settings and for patients without direct clinical supervision, according to UCLIC, and the usability and reliability of such devices is critical. “For example, decimal points are a well-known source of error (e.g., .5mg misread as 5mg), yet few devices detect decimal keying errors. Considering the broader context of use, a nurse familiar with one kind of infusion pump may absent-mindedly use the same set-up procedure on a similar one, leading to incorrect dosage. These and other user programming errors cause patient deaths,” according to the grant document. “Even when devices are programmed correctly, interaction difficulties raise workload and stress, increasing overall system vulnerability. For example, it is common for clinicians to turn pumps off and on to reset the state, but patient data may be lost in the process and need to be re-entered. Better interaction design, the focus of CHI+MED, will improve safety by a scientific approach to understanding and designing out latent errors. It will have very broad impact because interactive systems are encroaching everywhere in healthcare. CHI+MED complements other initiatives on the ergonomics and engineering of safer devices.”


The investigators will study which device properties are most important from safety and usability perspectives, the causes of errors when interacting with devices, and how a better science of error can improve design.


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