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Big returns without big bucks: Tap into clinical expertise at a conference!

Many of us in device design, human factors and usability love the opportunity to observe our end users in their natural environment. This opportunity occurred for hundreds of hospital, medical equipment and device vendors (many of them our clients) in New Orleans a few weeks ago at the American Association of Critical Care Nurses National Teaching Institute and Critical Care Exposition. The conference is the largest gathering of critical care nurses, nurse educators, clinical nurse specialists, advanced practice nurses, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse anesthetists. With over 8,000 specialized critical care device related end users in one building, this professional conference was a great place to conduct user experience research.

If you have hard-to-recruit user groups, you may want to think outside of the box to gather valuable, real-time information and/or hands-on feedback from end users by exploring the professional conference setting.

A missed opportunity for valuable insight?

As I walked the show floor, I watched nurses interact with each conference booth, giving their unfiltered feedback on the medical equipment or interface to the sales rep. I wondered if this rich information would ever find its way back to the product engineers, designers, project managers, sales and/or clinical team for the respective vendor?

It reminded me with significant clarity that there is tremendous opportunity to have insight into a specialized user group, like critical care nurses, by attending this expo. Simulated use studies yield irreplaceable insights to behavior in operational context, but the sheer quantity and variety of feedback available on these exhibit floors can also add tremendous value.

A captive audience of willing participants

We’ve had great experience conducting research in the conference environment. Whether it’s a 15-minute survey on the exhibit hall floor to obtain hundreds of distinct points of view, or one-on-one interviews in a private area of the booth, our clients have capitalized on this focused group of device users who are available in abundance. What I’ve learned from this technique is that conference attendees are very willing to participate in such activities. I frequently notice when a couple of attendees congregate to complete the survey or participate in the activity, more start to gather. “What is going on here?” they wonder and ask.  Masses accumulate… they want to ensure they are involved. They will wait in line to execute the survey; sometimes not even knowing for what. This approach works out to be a tremendous way to gather information, with a relatively small investment.

For 1:1 interviews or studies within a curtained booth, there is a captive audience from which to choose potential participants. Focus groups or Advisory Board meetings are also a great option as there are many thought leaders and innovators on hand.

Have a booth? Make a plan to capture the feedback and get it back to the product teams

At a minimum, vendors who are exhibiting on the show room floor should develop a strategy to obtain, process and otherwise react to the incredible amount of feedback and information that is presented to the sales and clinician teams who are working in the booths. When not being directly observed or challenged, the first utterances in reaction to a product, device or technology can be priceless! As we all know, absolute truth is often provided in those first utterances and they should be used for improving the user experience and enhancing patient safety.

Have you had success using this technique?

Please email me to share your thoughts at (User Experience Research Director at GfK).

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