Sylvia Nguyen Dang
Sylvia Nguyen Dang | Interaction Designer
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Relief: Connected Health Systems Design

Relief

A system of connected devices to track and manage chronic pain

Healthcare Design | Systems Thinking

Experience Design | Design Research

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Solo Project

Advisor

Jorge Arango

Tools

Sketch, Illustrator, InVision

Timeline

3 weeks

overview

RELIEF helps individuals manage chronic back pain and improve quality of life through a series of connected devices—Kinesiology/EMG tape and Smart Watch and Pain Tracking App. These devices work together to:

  • monitor muscle tension

  • provide targeted exercise tips to prevent flare-ups

  • track pain reporting to customize pain management based on the individual’s behaviors and needs.


 

Final Product

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RELIEF Smart Watch wearable pairs with the RELIEF app and RELIEF Tape to track physical activity, notify the user about muscle tension levels, ask for user feedback, and recommend actions for pain management.

 
 

the challenge

Chronic pain is a health issue affecting millions of Americans.

Chronic pain affects an individual’s overall quality of life and is the leading cause of job-related disability and productivity loss.

 

user research snapshot

David experiences chronic pain from previous sports injuries.

David is a 32-year-old male with chronic lower back and shoulder pain. His condition is both genetic (his dad also suffers from chronic back pain) and a result of residual injuries from playing lacrosse in high school and college.


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user experience map

Throughout the day his experience of pain differs by hour and activity.

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current system

David mainly relies on himself to manage his condition.

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Insights from User Research

Pain is subjective and hard to measure.

Insight 1

There is currently no reliable method of objectively quantifying an individual’s experience of pain.

“Intense” pain for one individual could be classified as “mild” for another. Medical experts still rely on a patient’s self-reporting;

insight 2

Coping mechanisms tend to be reactive, rather than preventive.

David takes painkillers and exercises to maintain his pain at a manageable baseline level. He has not pursued other methods to reduce the pain or prevent it from worsening.

insight 3

David needs to expand his support network for long-term care.

He will need to shift his mental framework from short-term fixes in order to stop his chronic pain from getting progressively worse.

 
 

These insights led to a central framing question:

How might we lower an individual’s experience of pain by raising their awareness to prevent and manage acute symptoms before they worsen?


 
 

CONCEPT IDEATION

A Hybrid Wearable + Tracking Device

EMG + Kinesiology Tape

1) usinG muscle tension as a proxy for pain

When you experience painful muscle cramps, your muscles are contracting intensely. Muscle tension can be measured via electromyography (EMG). The more nerves that are firing, the stronger the voltage and the stronger the muscle contraction.

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2) combining existing tech to create a new solution

Relief Tape: As a speculative design, I combined the technology from EMG with Kinesiology Tape as a new hybrid wearable that can measure muscle tension and provide pain relief in problem areas.

Kinesiology tape is commonly worn by athletes to relieve back pain, spasms, and inflammation resulting from injuries or overuse.

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3) data tracking to inform the user and gather feedback

To promote adoption, I wanted to design an experience that would easily integrate with David’s current habits.

Relief App: tracks and aggregates data from Relief Tape and his activity, sends alerts, and asks for feedback would be the extra support system he needs to assist his pain management.

 
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Wireframes V1

Initial wireframes incorporated key features: reminder notifications, exercise tips, and a tracking dashboard.

feedback from user

Testing V1 with the user revealed the need for more specificity. This app needed to differ from his other activity tracking apps by providing a way for David to report the pain he’s feeling and how his activities correlate to his pain relief. I also needed to design a way to connect his physical therapist to this network.

 
 

future system

A Connected Network for Pain Management & Feedback

The connected network of Relief Tape + Relief App (for smart watch and smart phone) work together to:

  • Track how often you feel muscle tension and pain, your medicine intake, and when the muscle tension is most severe

  • Send alerts about your muscle tension and recommend tips to prevent pain from escalating

  • Ask for feedback on where you specifically feel the pain and what is the intensity of that pain. Aggregates this feedback over time

  • Notify your physical therapist with your pain data for follow-up professional care

 

Conceptual map of relief devices

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Learnings

Reflection

  • Feedback is the critical missing piece. The Tape + watch + app must all communicate and build on user feedback in order to personalize each individual’s pain management practices. My first iterations provided objective data reporting, but I needed to incorporate user feedback (e.g., self-reporting of pain intensity) to show a more holistic view of whether the individuals’s condition improved over time.

  • Because chronic pain is part of the daily life experience for many individuals, managing that pain must also be easy to integrate into daily practices.

next steps

  • More user testing is needed. In a future iteration, I would build a working prototype of Relief Tape using Arduino and EMG sensors to test with David and other users.