Reimagining an Inhaled Experience


Asthma is a common chronic illness in New Zealand, yet the treatment and use of inhalers have minimally improved over the last few decades. Laveda aimed to gain insight from the asthma community to redesign the asthma inhaler as a more desirable and intuitive device.

Asthma has been thoroughly researched and reported over the last 50 years, yet there have been minimal changes to asthma treatment. Inhaler techniques were a primary focus in much of the literature and healthcare services. Many recommendations included more attention required towards medication adherence, training sessions to help improve asthma control, and shared decision-making between all parties involved in asthma care. It was clear that both clinicians and asthmatics were frustrated with the lack of change in treating asthma. Reiterating the importance of correctly following techniques can only help the patient so far if the device itself lacks the consideration of natural human behaviours and thinking.  

By using a human-centred design approach (HCD), the asthma community within the New Zealand healthcare system was better understood, and challenges were recognised in providing adequate treatment that suits most asthmatics. Interviews and surveys were conducted with clinicians and asthmatics, respectively.  

Form studies sought to balance medical with consumer aesthetics, and the overarching aim was to design a minimal but elegant concept that would capture the attention of asthmatics, motivating them to take their treatments regularly.

As technology becomes more integrated into society, smart inhalers can empower asthmatics to be more actively engaged with their treatments through mobile technology. This research recognised that support systems could help people better manage their conditions through shared accountability and sharing experiences and learning.  

Reframing the project's potential to challenge the status quo of healthcare services allowed for a re-evaluation of how the inhaler is used within the asthma ecosystem. Incorporating sensors to enforce usage tracking, sending reminders for recommended use, and giving options for earlier intervention with asthma services could drive better self-management for most people who would like to be more proactive in their treatment. However, it was recognised that smart devices would more likely be used by people who are more adept with technology, cycling back to acknowledging privilege. From the design perspective in this solution approach, if the majority of asthmatics could be contained in a self-managed and self-regulated ecosystem, then the health professionals can, in turn, focus more on those who remain underserved.

There may be opportunities to extend this research outside of asthma and use the outcomes as a guideline to challenge medical device designs using HCD approaches.

Here's what Laveda had to say about the Masters experience:

"Working on an individual project as a Master's student challenged me to be more independent. I had to learn that there is no single correct approach to solving complex issues, especially within the medical field, and ultimately take charge of the steps to determine the best solution within predetermined constraints. With minimal formal education in design, my instinct was often to revert to an evidence-based approach when designing new concepts. I had to be more intentional in resisting this approach and instead tried to understand the problem context through the user's perspective first. On the other hand, designing a medical device still requires a certain degree of rigour, so I channelled my engineering thinking into feasibility analysis. Bringing in two perspectives from seemingly opposite epistemologies taught me to use each piece of knowledge in various project stages. From collaborating with end-users and clinicians, I found that no experiences are identical, complicating the tension between finding a solution suitable for most people or accommodating individualised needs and desires. The human-centred approach unlocked layered contexts, perfectly representing the complexity of human behaviour and emphasising how crucial it is to work directly with primary users and supporting systems. I learned to prioritise the users' underlying needs over my own biases and assumptions as best as I could. However, not all the requirements and stylistic requests from users can be met, hence the importance of determining certain features to include over others. I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to advocate for users and design through empathy, thereby shaping my values as a designer."

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AUT X Challenge The Idea Winner 2022

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