Human-centered design for medical devices and diagnostics in global health


  • Mark James Fisher Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • Elizabeth Johansen Spark Health Design, Cambridge, MA, USA



So much lifesaving medical technology exists in the world, yet so little of it benefits communities with low resources. Purchase price is only one barrier. The World Health Organization found nearly three quarters of devices provided by industrialized countries are not used when they reach low resource communities. Most medical devices and diagnostics fail to operate effectively in environments with power fluctuations, high temperatures, high humidity, dust, insect infiltration, poor availability of spare parts, high-cost consumables, and low staff-to-patient ratio. To provide robust, well-designed products for low-resource environments, devices need to be developed to address the needs of the local clinics, hospitals, and communities. Human-Centered Design (HCD) is a set of tools, processes, and mindsets that can help a team uncover the essential needs of diverse stakeholders involved in the success of medical technology for global health. This paper provides an overview of the HCD techniques we have found most useful in developing medical technology for global health applications. To illustrate the HCD techniques and their benefits, we present a case study of Design that Matters’ Firefly phototherapy. The device is now treating newborn jaundice in low-resource hospitals in over 20 low and middle-income countries.

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How to Cite

Fisher, M. J., & Johansen, E. (2020). Human-centered design for medical devices and diagnostics in global health. Global Health Innovation, 3(1).



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