Design of a Tablet Computer App for Facilitation of a Molecular Blood Culture Test in Clinical Microbiology and Preliminary Usability Evaluation

1. What was the motivation behind your study?

Smartphones and tablets are becoming ubiquitous in daily life and their use is spreading to clinical settings. As a research project, we have developed a prototype of a tablet app to support the use of an advanced molecular diagnostic test called MuxBCT. MuxBCT is designed for use in clinical microbiology laboratories and aims to provide rapid identification of microorganisms from positive blood cultures. While MuxBCT was still under development, a prototype of the app was ready for preliminary usability testing. The motivation of this study was to evaluate the prototype of the app.

2. Describe your study.

We conducted a near-live clinical simulation study of the app supporting use of MuxBCT in a clinical microbiology laboratory. Four medical laboratory technicians participated in the study. Guided by the app, participants attempted to identify microorganisms in mocked blood cultures using a simulated version of MuxBCT based on tests similar in function to MuxBCT. We evaluated the usability of the app through observing participants and their interactions with the app, by recording app interactions directly on the tablet, and by debriefing participants to clarify observations.

3. What were the results of the study?

The preliminary usability results were positive. The participants were able to identify all microorganisms in the mocked blood cultures. Furthermore, all identified microorganisms were correctly recorded and communicated from the app to a central database. Three of four participants preferred the use of the app instead of a paper form for recording results. The usability results indicated that the developed app could successfully guide use of MuxBCT. Furthermore, the clinical simulation validated some of the system design aspects such as data communication and system security.

4. What is the main point that readers should take away from this study?

Clinical simulation can be a valuable tool for evaluating high fidelity prototypes of mobile health technologies, where the usability is highly dependent on the context of use.

5. What was the most surprising finding from your study?

It was interesting to observe how quickly the medical laboratory technicians could adapt to a tablet as a tool for supporting their work. While the participants were familiar with smartphones and tablets from their daily life, none had previously used tablets as part of their laboratory work.

6. What are the next steps? How do you envision this work ultimately translating into clinical practice or affecting R&D?

The results from this study will be used to guide further developments of the app. The study validated some of our system design choices, which will likely be reused in other research projects.

This Q&A was submitted by Lasse Lefevre Samson M.Sci., a PhD fellow in th Medical Informatics Group, Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark.