mHealth Research Digest with Tim Bredrup

The simultaneous use of multiple drugs, also known as polypharmacy, and issues with properly managing the consumption of multiple medications is common among the elderly.

Medication-related problems and increased healthcare expenditures can stem from this and while Medication Delivery Units (MDUs) often help to address these concerns, older adults with age-related impairments can find them difficult to use.

To assess the usability of telemedicine-based MDUs in older adults, biomedical informaticists at University of Pittsburg performed a study that utilized a combination of three different human computer interaction inspection methods – heuristic evaluation, cognitive walk-through, and simulated elderly interaction.

As described by the researchers, “Heuristic evaluation is an inexpensive usability inspection method that involves applying a set of validated principles for interface design to a system such as an MDU and cognitive walkthroughs focus on the cognitive processes involved in task completion, instead of the functionality of the system.” The researchers go on to explain, “The simulated elderly interaction included the use of an ‘elderly kit’, developed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute on Aging, that contains components designed to simulate some of the most common medical conditions that affect older adults.”

The study results indicated that each method revealed various problems, with repeated discoveries via different methods making for strong evidence. “Despite the MDU’s general usability, issues of varying severity were discovered,” the researchers reported.

“Significant usability issues associated with physical interactions with the MDU included loading and unloading the medication blister packs, and opening the delivered medication prior to administration. Less severe issues centered on small text sizes and poor user feedback.”

It was concluded that telemedicine-based MDU’s are in fact difficult to effectively use for older adults with age-related impairments. However further usability testing, involving older adults with a variety of impairments, is needed to validate the study results.


Ligons FM, Romagnoli KM, Browell S, Hochheiser HS, Handler SM.


Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

Original Abstract: