“When I started working with computers back in the 90s, I found the user interface cumbersome. And so did the elderly people in Japan. Many did not want to use computers because they were so difficult to handle”, says the young scientist from Tokyo.
At The Norwegian Centre for Telemedicine (NST) and Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory (TTL), Naoe has just started her PhD thesis in the “Diabetes team” at NST, where researchers are developing technology and prototypes for self-help for diabetes patients.
Helping diabetes patients
Using among other things a stepcounter, that communicates with a mobile telephone via Bluetooth technology, the team want to help people with diabetes regulate their own diet and activity levels. This way, the patients get help to master their own situation and keep their disease at bay. However, developing such is not an easy task…
“A study done at the University of Oxford states that self-help tools such as these usually don’t work very well without regular interventions from health personnel, because adherence to the system declines over time. So we want to design our system in a way so that it is less intrusive, easier to use and giving crucial benefits, increasing the adherence and ensuring the continued use of the system”, she says.
For example, diabetes patients often have problems with their eyesight. This can easily lead them to discard electronic self-help tool, like the wireless stepcounter-mobile phone interaction that researchers are developing at NST and TTL. Buttons that are too small – or in the wrong colour, a headache for people that are colour-blind– could mean failure for such promising projects. And the ones that would have to pay the price would be the patients.
The world's smallest sensors
Since Tatara graduated in Integrated Design Engineering from Keio University in 2003, she has worked extensively with sensor technology at the Japanese company Nippon Telephone and Telegraph (NTT). Among other projects during her four years with the company, she took part in developing an blood-pressure sensor to be worn in the ear.
“That was particularly difficult as nobody has exactly the same earshape, making it difficult to create a sensor that fits everybody and can still sense the changing pressure from the bloodvessels close to the ear”, she says.
Another of Tatara’s challenges was creating the world’s smallest laser bloodflow-meter for medical use. The sensor itself, with a length of only lean 18 millimeters, is connected to a main unit that can be mounted on the patient’s wrist but still weighs only 55 grams and has a length of only 6 centimeters.
The Japanese researchers used a wireless Bluetooth connection to transmit the bloodflow readings to a computer. But as she says: “We could just as well have sent the information to a mobile phone using the same technology, much in the way that the Diabetes-team are working on here.”
And now she has moved to Tromsø, bringing with her the conviction that a good user interface is critical for putting new health-technology into use.
In 2011, she will hopefully have provided the industry with a few more tricks to put up their sleeves, so that patients using such self-help tools will find them useful and easy to handle, helping patients improve their own health.
PhD student Naoe Tatara, direct telephone +47 959 98 656 and email email@example.com