Industrial + Product Design
Embrace: Remote Interaction System
A complex problem posed as a simple question:
How might we mitigate stress for parents with children in the NICU?
Embrace began as a traditional ID concept that attempted to challenge a seemingly unlimited question. Yet, sometimes simply stated questions require multi-faceted solutions. What began as a traditional ID prompt quickly evolved into a question of user experience, stakeholder obligations, and how might a marriage of existing and emerging technologies factor into the solution.
Medical is a very difficult field to break into by itself, and a focus within that field (the NICU) is a time-intensive endeavor of understanding stakeholders, influencers, and the surrounding environment. Throughout this project, I was fortunate to work with a mentor for the duration, and make connections with real people involved in the NICU and medical industry. With their insights and guidance:
Embrace was developed as an attempt to discover unmet stakeholder needs and bridge an existing communication gap in the healthcare sector.
SENIOR CAPSTONE (FALL 2018) / AUBURN UNIVERSITY
Asking the Right Questions
- What is the current stakeholder (newborn, parent, and nursing staff) experience?
- What does a parent want to feel throughout each stage of this experience?
- How can we create a symbiotic relationship between parents and nursing staff?
Initial research consisted of speaking with the stakeholders most involved with the NICU (the parents, the NICU nursing staff, and other associated staff), and visiting Cincinnati Children's Hospital NICU and University of Alabama NICU Sim Center in order to better understand the environment. Parents and nurses were contacted via phone and email, and were asked to describe their experiences from initial admittance to the NICU through the discharge process. This lead to a general understanding of the parents' plight, and, perhaps more importantly, uncovered the relationships and influencers of each stakeholder involved
Though the prompt's end result is focused on the parents emotions, the solution really begins with the direct influencers, with the baby being the most direct influencer of the parents emotion, but the nursing staff having the most control over the direct influencer (the baby).
The most difficult task can be dealing with parents and there emotions
Parents typically experience the most negative emotional states immediately following delivery
Isolated babies are better protected from infection, yet can lack the social stimulation provided to pod babies
Everything in the NICU is on a routine
Communication between parents and nurses can be ambiguous or totally lacking
Babies in the NICU are shocking to look at, leading to apprehension from parents to touch or handle them
Cords and cables are arranged as the baby is introduced into the NICU
Parents usually feel helpless and out of control during the initial days and weeks after baby's admission
Parents are on a spectrum - those who are hyper-involved to those who are absent
Parents will acclimate to the environment
Simulating the Experience
In order to better understand the role of a nursing team within the NICU, I attended a NICU Simulation training event hosted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. This 3-hour training event was focused on preparation or recertification for NICU nurses in emergency settings that immediately follow delivery. These simulations provided valuable insight to the workings and cooperation of a nursing team in dealing with patients and parents.
I opted to return for a second simulation event one week later, which reinforced the problem areas I noticed during initial research, and provided valuable stakeholder feedback that subsequently lead to a more comprehensive user journey map.
Visualizing the Stakeholder Experience
The entire experience is a stressful one - and it cannot easily be summarized with pixels, colors, or text - so this user mapping exercise was meant to serve as a point of conversation and reasoning based on real world experiences.
I opted to take a "30,000 foot" look at the typical journey a parent might experience. This starts with the initial admission of the baby and end's at the time of the baby's discharge.
One of the most insightful results of the journey map was discovering points of convergence or conflict between parents and nurses. Whatever desire the parent may have at a point in the journey typically had an inverse desire for the nurse (e.g. a parent is envious of the nurse providing all care to baby, while the nurse would prefer the parent to stay hands-off unless directed otherwise).The end result, while attempting to mitigate stress for parents, also mustn't inhibit the nurse's duties.
There are many variables interwoven within the NICU, yet everything is tied together at the "baby" level (center), for without the baby in this situation nothing else would have a purpose for existing. The "influence hierarchy" can best be stated as baby > parent > nurse. Typically, the stress is most evident in the parents of the baby in the NICU, which is usually a direct correlation with the state of the baby and the NICU environment in general. This stress may then be directed at the nurse from the parent, which can then affect the mood and competency of the nurse to perform their duties.
Stakeholder feedback was vital at this point in the project, and it was convenient to ask the experienced nurses from the simulation event to evaluate the user journey map, pain points, and opportunities, while contributing their own thoughts and ideas. The stakeholders were asked to prioritize the opportunity statements in order of importance, which lead to three statements being recognized as the most appropriate to pursue. The common link between all three chosen statements was communication among parents and nurses.
Ideation centered around an ambiguous "communication hub." This left the visual, auditory, and interfacing components as a point of discussion.
High Level Mapping & Wireframe Concepts
From the concept generation session, I decided to purse an online web portal as the center point of all communication components of the system. Below is a broad overview of the portal and its specific components. From here, I generated several layouts for web and app, and presented these to the stakeholders for further feedback and refinement.
Online Portal Wireframe Concept 1.1
Online Portal Wireframe Concept 1.2
Online Portal Wireframe Concept 1.3
App Wireframe Concept 1.0
Online Portal Concept 1
Online Portal Concept 2
With feedback from the stakeholders, I felt comfortable pursuing a final direction for Embrace. Ideally, parents will be given an information packet upon arrival to the NICU that details what to expect, how to use Embrace, and other associated contact information for the hospital. Before it is provided to the parents, an administrator will provide the initial login information on the packet - there is no setup required for the parent, they can simply log in. This is beneficial in the event that the mother is still bedridden, as she can now immediately log in and view her baby remotely.
Based on stakeholder feedback, I developed the final wireframe of the online portal. Its intent remains a simple, yet intuitive and informative user experience.
Below is the final wireframe and concept video overview.
Click to watch concept tutorial.
A few key features and capabilities of Embrace system. The physical component mimics the aesthetic and feel of the overall system.
Note: Embrace attempts to simulate a bonding experience between mother and newborn. Upon birth, a newborn's auditory system is fully developed and research shows a preference for their mother's voice. However, their eyesight is underdeveloped to the point of being unable to recognize faces or distinct shapes. Embrace takes advantage of this and will alert the mother when their newborn is in distress. Eventually, a nurse will come to relive the newborn of its stress, but in the meantime, Embrace prompts the mother to soothe and comfort the newborn with her voice. The newborn does not know who is giving it care, but will recognize its mother's voice and, given enough repetition, will eventually associate the care it receives with its mothers voice - effectively simulating bonding between the two.
2018 Benton Humphreys | Designer (ID, UI/UX). All rights reserved.