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Software as Medical Device: A guide to implementing user-centered design

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Jun 13, 2024

samd series | author

Weronika Michaluk

Digital Health Principal
SaMD Lead at HTD Health

Introduction to Software as Medical Device (SaMD)

Understanding and applying user-centered design principles can profoundly impact the functionality, safety, and user acceptance in Software as Medical Device, making it a critical consideration for developers and healthcare professionals.

The growing popularity of Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) industry represents a significant evolution in healthcare technology, enabling software systems to perform medical functions without being part of a physical medical device. This article will guide you through the crucial aspects of implementing user-centered design in SaMD development, ensuring that these technologies are effective, safe, and tailored to user needs.

Whether you are at the beginning stages of SaMD development or refining an existing product, understanding user-centered design principles is vital. The design process for SaMD involves several critical stages, including user research, prototyping, testing, and iterative improvement. At each stage, decisions about the user interface and overall user experience can significantly impact the product’s success.

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Defining Software as Medical Device

Software as a Medical Device, or SaMD, is intended to be used for one or more medical purposes that perform these purposes without being part of a hardware medical device. SaMD applications range from diagnostic software that uses inputs from medical devices to provide critical outputs, such as calculating insulin dosages, to smartphone apps that monitor heart rates or manage chronic diseases. If you want to learn more about SaMD, read our article “Introduction to Software as Medical Device: What is SaMD?”.

The evolution of SaMD in healthcare

The role of SaMD in healthcare has grown exponentially with advances in technology and regulatory frameworks adapting to accommodate these innovations.

One significant regulatory advancement in SaMD industry is the introduction of the FDA’s Digital Health Innovation Action Plan. This plan includes several key components aimed at fostering innovation while ensuring patient safety. This evolution has been marked by a shift towards more personalized medicine, where SaMD solutions can provide tailored healthcare experiences and treatments to individual patients, significantly enhancing patient outcomes and the efficiency of healthcare services.

Understanding user-centered design in healthcare

Principles of user-centered design

User-centered design (UCD) is a framework that focuses on designing products with the needs, wants, and limitations of the end users at the forefront of all design decisions. In the context of Software as Medical Device (SaMD), this means involving healthcare professionals, patients, and other stakeholders throughout the design process to ensure that the software meets their practical and clinical needs effectively. UCD emphasizes iterative development, where feedback is continuously sought and integrated to refine the product.

Benefits of user-centered design in medical software development

The implementation of user-centered design in medical software development offers numerous benefits:

  • enhances user satisfaction and engagement,
  • reduces the likelihood of user error,
  • and increases the overall safety and effectiveness of the medical device software.

By focusing on the users’ needs, developers can create SaMD products that are more intuitive and easier to integrate into daily medical practices, ultimately leading to better patient care and outcomes.

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The user-centered design process for Software as Medical Device

Overview of the user-centered design process

The user-centered design process in SaMD development involves several key steps: identifying the user needs and requirements, designing the software with these needs in mind, prototyping, and rigorous user testing. This process ensures that the final product is not only technically sound but also aligns perfectly with the user’s expectations and the real-world clinical environment.

Great user experience drives patient engagement by making medical software more intuitive and accessible, encouraging regular use and interaction. Additionally, when patients find the software easy to use and helpful, their satisfaction and trust in the medical service increases, promoting long-term engagement and adherence to treatment protocols.

The four phases of user-centered-design

The user-centered design process typically unfolds in four distinct phases:

  • Analysis, where user needs and context of use are defined;
  • Design, where solutions are conceptualized and prototypes are created;
  • Testing, where prototypes are evaluated by users;
  • Implementation, where the final product is developed based on feedback from the testing phase.

Each phase is iterative, with ongoing evaluations to ensure that the design meets user needs effectively.

Implementing user-centered design in SaMD development

Step-by-step guide to applying user-centered design

Implementing user-centered design in Software as Medical Device requires a structured approach. Begin by engaging with end-users to gather detailed insights into their needs and the specific challenges they face in their daily operations. Utilize these insights to define clear and measurable design objectives. Next, create initial prototypes and conduct iterative testing sessions with the same user groups to refine the design based on real feedback. This cycle should continue until the software meets the functional requirements and usability standards expected by its users.

Integrating user feedback and iterative testing

A crucial component of the user-centered design process is the integration of user feedback and iterative testing. This involves regular interaction with users to test prototypes and gather feedback, which is then used to make informed adjustments to the software design. This iterative loop helps to ensure that the final product not only functions as intended but also resonates well with its users, leading to higher adoption rates and a more effective tool in clinical settings.

How to Design Software as a Medical Device

Key considerations for designing SaMD

Designing Software as a Medical Device involves several critical considerations.

  1. Firstly, the software must adhere to relevant regulatory requirements, which vary widely depending on the device’s intended use and the markets it will serve. Security and data protection are also paramount, given the sensitive nature of medical data.
  2. Additionally, designers must consider the technical constraints of the platforms on which the software will operate, ensuring compatibility and performance across all intended devices.
  3. Furthermore, incorporating human factors and usability engineering is essential to ensure that the software is not only functional but also user-friendly. This involves designing interfaces and interactions that accommodate the cognitive, physical, and sensory characteristics of the user population, enhancing the overall user experience and safety.

The benefits of this approach are numerous. Prioritizing regulatory compliance and security ensures that the software meets legal standards and protects patient data, which is crucial for maintaining user trust and avoiding costly legal issues. Focusing on technical compatibility and performance across various platforms enhances the software’s reliability and usability, leading to higher user satisfaction and adoption rates.

Moreover, investing in human factors and usability engineering can significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the software, reducing the likelihood of user errors and increasing the overall quality of care. This user-centered design approach can also lead to greater market differentiation and competitive advantage, as products that are easier and more intuitive to use are more likely to be preferred by healthcare professionals and patients alike.

Technologies and methods used in SaMD design

The technologies and methods used in Software as Medical Device design vary widely but often include advanced programming languages suited for high-stakes environments, robust data encryption techniques, and cloud-based platforms for enhanced accessibility and data storage.

Leveraging modern development frameworks and following best practices in software engineering ensure that SaMD products are reliable, scalable, and maintainable over the long term. Integrating human factors and usability engineering throughout the development process supports the creation of software that effectively meets the needs of end-users, contributing to the overall success and acceptance of the product in clinical settings.


In conclusion, the importance of user-centered design in the development of Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) cannot be overstated. This approach not only ensures that the software meets the stringent regulatory standards and operational needs of healthcare environments but also addresses the real-world challenges and preferences of users.

By prioritizing user-centered design, developers can create SaMD products that are not only technologically advanced but also widely accepted and valued by both medical professionals and patients. As SaMD continues to evolve, incorporating robust user-centered design practices will remain essential in driving innovation and improving patient outcomes in the healthcare industry.

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