Using connectivity to help tired parents keep track of medication

Concept development

Challenge
Supporting parents in managing their children’s medication.

Approach
Working with parents, we explored the reality and challenges of administering over the counter oral medication to children. We identified pain points and focused on solutions that didn’t require changes to behaviour or existing hardware. We developed a tiny low-cost sensing solution that automatically tracks when and how much drug has been administered and an app that presents the key information back to the user at a glance.

Outcome
We delivered a simple, intuitive system that enhances the user experience and helps avoid medication errors. A connected syringe sends data to a smart phone app and presents parents with information about dosage, dosage frequency and time to next dose. The working prototype hardware and iOS application was delivered in 5 weeks.

Delivering oral treatment to infants can be difficult for parents. We wanted to simplify the way parents administer medicine to young children and add value to an existing product without asking them to change their pattern of use.

“Successful connected solutions add value without requiring users to modify their behaviour.” Ben Cox, Head of Digital Design.

 
Meeting user needs

Shivering, shaking, rapid heart rate, flushed face, sweating, a temperature-reading above 37.5 C – these are all symptoms that parents face when their child has a fever. In this stressful situation managing a child’s medication is hard. Giving the correct dose and knowing when they can administer the next dose can be confusing, especially if more than one child is ill.

We began the project with some ethnographic research to truly understand what would help parents. Spending time with them and their children helped uncover several unmet needs:

• Recording number of doses given in a specified time period
• Indicating time to next dose
• History of doses delivered
• Dose reminders
• Managing medication for multiple children
• Enabling inputs from multiple carers

medical device - medication management app
Performing user studies with parents to gain feedback

 
A ‘design sprint’ approach to prototyping

We undertook a five day ‘design sprint’ during which we explored various solutions. The aim of the sprint was to have a prototype that we could present to parents for user testing in just 5 days.

Day one focused on identifying the problem: What might parents struggle to remember? What dosage do they need to give to children of different ages?

During day two, we started ideation: we wanted to find a solution that did not require an add-on or extra step for the user.

medical device - medication management app
Design sprint

After working through the user flow in detail and identifying user-related risks, integrating sensing into a dosage syringe was the obvious solution. We decided to hack an existing syringe by embedding a magnetometer into the plunger. To rapidly explore feasibility we chose to use an off the shelf ‘ST’ development board enabling us to detect plunger position without modification to the plastic components.

On day three, we sketched out the workflow of a smart phone application and identified the key screens and use flows to be tested with users. The UI was developed and refined in Sketch® and brought to life in an interactive Flinto® prototype.

By day four of our ‘design sprint’ we had something ready to test with users.

On day five we performed user studies and gathered feedback from parents. Results from user testing gave us confidence that the solution was both feasible and useful.

“It was important to get early feedback from parents to ensure the concepts met their various needs and to uncover more details about the context of use”. Charlotte Harris, Senior Consultant.

Building a connected smart syringe

From our design sprint we had confidence in our concept, so we started to develop custom printed circuit boards which would fit into the centre of the plunger. We had to minimise power consumption and reconfigure component layout on the board. Our design relied on adding magnetic strips to the body of a syringe in-place of the dose markings. These magnets are read by a magnetometer mounted on a small circuit board. Our goal was for most of the processing to be undertaken on the circuit board rather than being undertaken by the phone’s processor.

Printed circuit board electronics for connected dosage syringe
Circuit board for connected smart syringe

 
An app that provides intuitive, at a glance support

The purpose of this system is to make life easier; to think for the user and reduce the burden of what they must do. As we developed the app we focused on communicating the critical information in an intuitive and predictable format: how much time has elapsed since the last dose, how many doses have we given in the last 24 hours, what size dose do we need to give a child of a certain age?

To increase the value of the app for the user, a supportive and comforting tone of voice was set. In addition, we developed the visual style to compliment this message – clean, concise but friendly with a quirky personality.

An app that logs each dose to better manage children medication
App to view medication dosage history for children
An app using Bluetooth technology to track dose to better manage children medication

Result

It took us five weeks from initial concept to build a tiny board, only 6mm wide, that includes five sensors, Bluetooth comms, an ARM processor and iOS app. The syringe automatically tracks when and how much drug has been administered, all critical data processing is performed by the embedded software and sent via Bluetooth to the user’s phone. The app presents key information (number of doses given and time since last dose) for each child back to the user in a simple and intuitive fashion. Secondary features such as medication reminders, symptom tracking and sharing are available if helpful.

The smart syringe and mobile app work together seamlessly to create a simple intuitive system that enhances the user experience and avoids medication errors.

An app using Bluetooth technology to track dose to better manage children medication