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Design at GE Healthcare: The Magic of Science and Empathy

Leading-edge design is typically associated with things like fashion, automobiles, consumer electronics and architecture. But medical devices? You’d be surprised. Over the past several years GE Healthcare has been building a world-class, award-winning design team. The company’s main design hub is in Buc, near Paris, which is home to product designers, ergonomists and researchers.

For GE, the design process begins not from an engineering point of view, but by gaining a deep understanding of the people who will interact with the equipment.

“It’s all about empathy,” says Bob Schwartz, general manager for global design at GE Healthcare. “How do we reach the hearts and minds of patients? How do we make the experience better for technologists and clinicians? How do we help them deliver high-quality healthcare with greater access at a lower cost?”

FranÒ«ois Lenfant, head of the European design studio at Buc, is passionate about the team’s contributions to GE Healthcare product development. Researchers and designers spend considerable time with real-world healthcare professionals. And this contact with end users often leads to new product concepts as well as ways to improve existing products.

“Of course we observe people, we interview people, but more importantly we want to understand their activity — how they work,” he says. “There is usually a big difference between what you do, and what you say you do, so we also are looking for unexpressed needs.”

A particularly colorful example is GE Healthcare’s development of a pediatric imaging solution that removes some of the distress children may feel while undergoing a scan. For the past several years, GE Healthcare has been working with child life specialists from leading children’s hospitals, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (Milwaukee, US), award-winning design firms and The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to improve the patient, family and hospital staff experience.

The pilot program resulting from this collaboration is called the GE Adventure Series™ (not commercially available). This approach to pediatric imaging takes patients on an imaging journey from a “Child Life Theatre” designed to acclimate children to the appearance, sound and feel of medical imaging, to the radiography room and equipment, to the exit point where children are rewarded for their participation.

The medical device industry is getting well-deserved attention as a field where excellent design makes a real difference. And GE Healthcare is betting on it as one of the qualities that set its products apart.