Recently I had to get my annual mammogram. They were running behind like doctor’s offices sometimes do - there were seven women in dressing gowns in the waiting room with me. After a few awkward moments, we all started to talk to each other. Every single one of the ladies talked about how they hate to come and get their annual mammograms. They talked about the pain of it, joked about the embarrassment of it - there was even a suggestion that they should serve wine in the waiting room instead of coffee. But each also showed a deep appreciation for the necessity of breast cancer screening - telling stories of aunts and mothers who were saved by it. Finally one woman told us that she was 39 when a mammogram detected her breast cancer for the first time. She was able to get minor surgery and was put on a regimen of annual mammograms. Six years after, she got breast cancer again. Again the mammogram was able to catch it early. She said she was now 57 years old and she felt like she owed 18 years of life to her doctor who suggested she get a mammogram at 39. There is no doubt about it; mammograms save people’s lives.
After my conversations that day, I started to think about the importance of human factors – not just for mammograms but for all medical devices. Not only do we need to make sure medical devices are designed to reduce human use error, we need to design cost effective medical devices that people will use and will not avoid. For every seven women complaining in the doctor’s office, there have to be seven women at home skipping their annual appointments. Some of these women will miss their opportunity for early detection. There are touchless, painless, non-invasive methods to screen for breast cancer. Surely insurance companies should readily cover such methods in order to get more women into the doctor’s office. Surely we medical device manufacturers should consider the patient’s comfort and desires when we are designing medical devices. Because it doesn’t really matter if a device is effective if no one will use it.