Advancing Connected Care

Hillrom partnered with THRIVE to lead the medical product design for the next-generation nurse call system—the Voalte® Nurse Call Station. This advanced system is the central hub of a connected care ecosystem, empowering caregivers to respond to their patients’ before the fall, the cardiac event, and before the code blue. It is the physical face of the new Voalte Platform, which brings together the acquisitions of Voalte and Excel Medical under the Hillrom brand to deliver a single unified approach to care communications technology that is unmatched in the industry.

The Voalte® Nurse Call Station is designed to be modular and deployed throughout the hospital environment at nurse stations, hallways, and patient rooms. It comprises a touch screen, articulating base, and handset to deliver best-in-class ergonomics with a modern and minimal design that embodies the feeling of precision that end-users expect from a best-in-class medical device.

The Voalte® Nurse Call system positioned Hillrom perfectly to capitalize on the forthcoming projected growth in the nurse call systems market, which is expected to rise from USD 1.18 billion in 2018 to USD 2.79 billion by 2026, owing to the reduction in the nurse-to-patient ratio—fortifying their #1 global leadership position and dominant 19% market share.

A Vision of the Future

Hillrom, a subsidiary of Baxter International Inc., is a medical technology company offering patient support systems, surgical solutions, and front-line care products since its founding in 1929. Hillrom recognized that nurse call systems were overdue for a leap in modernization with fragmented hospital systems and their disparate solutions, making patient, staff, and even device connections complex and inefficient, negatively impacting patient care. 

There are up to 1 million falls in hospitals in the US each year, with an average cost of $13,316 per fall; that’s a $1.3 million increased cost for a 100-bed facility with 179 falls per year. Hillrom’s vision was to build an ecosystem of connected technologies to advance hospital care and enhance patient and caregiver outcomes. Hillrom understood that to bring this vision to life, they needed a seamless ecosystem of digital and physical devices and engaged THRIVE to take a human-centered approach to the medical product design of the Voalte Nurse Call Station, the keystone and central hub of the system.


Time for Change

The team began with extensive in-field research with healthcare professionals to understand their behavior and frustrations with existing nurse call systems. We shadowed Hospital Unit Controllers (HUCs) and Charge Nurses in Pediatric and Rehabilitation units to understand user needs, process flows, desired functionality, work-a-rounds, and any unarticulated needs related to the Hill-Rom Nurse Call Suite. The research informed the development of three experience design principles that informed the overall product design and user experience.

Best in Class Ergonomics

We took a human-centered approach to the Nurse Call Staff Station driven by our in-field insights, focusing on the comfort of Health Unit Coordinators (HUCs) and Charge Nurses, who use the system for up to twelve hours a day on a single shift. The key area of sacrifice was handset comfort, with existing product designs being challenging to hold and uncomfortable on the ear for extended periods. We benchmarked twenty different handsets to determine optimal usability, arriving at an optimal weight range of range 150-200 grams, a 50/50 weight balance between ear and mouth, angled mouth, and earpieces for better face contouring (approx. 15 degrees) with a dished ear cup for improved sound quality, and an hourglass contour to comfortably fit hand sizes from a 5th percentile female to a 95th percentile male. 

In mission-critical moments, grasping the handset quickly and easily is vital to HUCs and Charge Nurses. Delivering on this need, we adopted an ‘open C’ configuration to the handset cradle so the handset could be grasped easily from the left or the right side in the center of the handset for optimal balance and control. Hospital environments can be noisy and chaotic, with a multitude of alarms. To ensure caregivers never miss a call, we added a “dome light” to the top edge of the entire unit to provide user-friendly visual notifications as well as auditory ones. The articulating stand enables HUCs and Charge Nurses to operate comfortably from standing and seated positions.

A Modern Medical Visual Language

Hospitals are fighting for business. They need to communicate to patients and families that money has been invested in the right places—that their clinicians and nurses have the best medical-grade equipment money can buy. The Nurse Call Station had to convey precision, efficiency, and excellence at a glance and be fit for purpose, telegraphing that it can deliver in life-and-death situations. 

In response, we developed a visual design language called ‘Human Touch’ using softened geometries and subtle, inflated surfaces to humanize the product and make it approachable, friendly, and intuitive, juxtaposed with precise chamfers and edges to communicate precision and accuracy.

Our research showed that healthcare professionals don’t want flashy, non-functional ornamentation. HUCs and Charge Nurses care most about the data displayed on the screen. So, we removed as much extraneous detail from the viewing surface and the surrounding components as possible, adding a strong sense of localized symmetry to communicate simplicity, purposefulness, and ease of use. 

Another critical insight that informed our industrial design approach was that healthcare professionals view overly expressive products with suspicion and gravitate to simple products with a tight, tailored fit that signifies that products are dependably engineered and manufactured when in hospital environments and can withstand their rigorous conditions. We tightly packaged all the nurse station’s components and reduced the overall footprint by removing mass from the phone cradle and articulating base to emphasize the two key interaction areas of the product: the handset and touchscreen. Medical professionals respond positively to products that look like they will fit nicely into their chaotic, crowded, and intense workspaces. We purposely made the station ‘clinical’ with a white and silver CMF to stand out from the other beige and black boxes that inhabit nurse station desktops, telegraphing its importance to clinical workflow.

Execution is Everything

THRIVE spearheaded all aspects of the mechanical engineering for the Nurse Call Station using our structured ISO 9001 quality management system and design documentation process. This enabled us to meet all regulatory requirements and operate efficiently and effectively with Hillrom’s chosen Contract Manufacturing (CM), engaging them throughout the medical product design process as partners to guarantee design suitability for assembly, servicing, and class-leading performance. Our Design and Engineering team worked iteratively, creating a series of proof-of-concept prototypes that were evaluated by end users and continuously improved throughout the development process.

We used integrated modeling and THRIVE’ moldflow and mechanical finite element analysis simulation capabilities to understand and assess the potential performance of our concepts from early-stage ideation to commercialization. Validating the manufacturability of each component while managing quality control and design aspects to ensure all parts were produced free of defects such as shrinkage, warpage, weld lines, sink marks, and other undesired defects. Our robust design controls and statistical tolerance techniques ensured a seamless transfer of the design intent and fulfillment of all Hillroms requirements. Quality-managed documentation, including CAD data, engineering drawings, assembly instructions, and production specifications, helped guarantee commercialization excellence. 

Setting A New Standard

The staff station represents a significant leap in modernizing nurse call systems, providing faster processing power, enhanced audio, and a camera to support video-based communications with patients and caregivers — an industry first. Since the launch of the Voalte Nurse Call System in 2021, the reception from hospitals has been overwhelmingly positive. One hospital reported reduced response times by 80 percent, another reduced falls with injury by 87 percent, and another reported caregivers spending 30 percent more time on direct patient care.

The success of the Hillrom Voalte Nurse Call System has bolstered Hillrom’s reputation as a leading medical device maker and innovator in the connected care category, conveying product leadership, market sensitivity, and high value through sophisticated, well-detailed medical product design. It has positioned Hillrom perfectly to capitalize on the forthcoming projected growth in the nurse call systems market (expected to rise from USD 1.18 billion in 2018 to USD 2.79 billion by 2026) owing to the reduction in the nurse-to-patient ratio.

Let’s craft better healthcare experiences together by implementing our human-centered product development process.

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