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|Newsletters: Consumer Input on Product Design Has Many Benefits|
Consumer Input on Product Design Has Many Benefits
Steve Swensen, Parent of HomePEN Consumer; President, The Oley Foundation
Not long ago, I was preparing a sterile field prior to changing my son’s catheter dressing. I normally use six, two-by-two gauze pads for a dressing change; however, on this occasion, as on many others, I used double that, because for every pad that fell free from the package, another had been glued to into the seams. Even a lot of useless gauze pads is little more than a nuisance, so I toss them and grab another. I should probably tell someone; there should probably be someone who wants to know. But, back in the real world -- I just toss them.
At the Oley Conference this June, however, I experienced something much closer to the ideal. I was one of perhaps a dozen consumers or caregivers who participated in a focus group sponsored, under Oley’s auspices, by a company that makes medical products. Company representatives distributed among us samples of a prototypical catheter currently under development. They described its intended advantages and invited us to react. The details of our discussion rightly belong to the company, but it’s safe to say that such an invitation is irresistible to people for whom catheters are not merely delivery devices, but also extensions of their private and public selves. Our group reacted expansively to those prototypes. Out of our diverse experiences there emerged a remarkably consistent picture of what constitutes a safe, mechanically friendly, cosmetically low-profile and psychologically unobtrusive catheter. The best part, of course, is that this transpired at the request of the company who actually manufactures catheters, and there is a good chance that our suggestions may yet come back to us in the form of a superior product, offering trouble-free performance in areas that might easily elude biomedical engineers.
Fortunately, most of the equipment that HomePEN consumers regularly use is of good, reliable quality. Unfortunately, when it is not, it may involve more than a benign nuisance. Huber needles excessively prone to burring, leaky air filters, end caps that crack or shatter in normal use, pumps that permit a swing of 400 mls or more on a three liter infusion Ñ these and similar problems justify our serious concern. They bespeak a manufacturing process that has little or no input from the end user, from us. This should not be difficult to remedy; the means are already in place, though sadly neglected. The consumers, caregivers and clinicians who comprise the Oley Foundation offer hands-on knowledge of HomePEN products that is vastly underutilized by manufacturers. Consumer welfare is sufficient reason to close this communication gap, but competitive advantage might serve equally well. I know that for my part, I can accept that I will continue wasting gauze pads but look forward to improvements in key products such as my son's central line.
In addition to benefiting consumers and the sponsoring company by providing an opportunity for an information exchange that can vastly improve a product or service, focus groups benefit the Oley Foundation. Companies that sponsor a focus group at the Oley conference make a contribution to the Foundation that helps underwrite a significant portion of the conference activities. Companies interested in sponsoring a focus group can contact the Oley Foundation at (518) 262-5079, for details on cost and availability.
Copyright © 1995 The Oley Foundation
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