Angel, Vlad the Impaler and R2D2 are some of the very different names people give to their mechanical circulatory support (MCS) devices – providing some insight into the range of emotional relationships people have with their technology.
A qualitative study within an online MCS community found patients also named their devices after family members like a father or grandfather.
Others used humour and irony with names like BOB (battery operated boyfriend) or HMB (high maintenance bitch).
The study, published in Heart & Lung, identified four themes underpinning the naming process – grateful partnership, dependency reversal, preserving perception and coping via humour.
The researchers suggested patients use the naming process to construct positive emotions around their need for a device, or to put a positive spin on neutral and even negative emotions they may have.
“Notably, even in the few cases of names being sincere, affectionate, or serious, none were internalising (i.e., none suggested that the patient perceived the device as being subsumed into themselves as part of their body).”
The investigators, led by Professor Cara Wrigley who was Jericho Chair of Design Innovation at the University of Sydney at the time of writing, said even the act of naming their device was inherently externalising.
“It is more difficult to imagine a patient naming their artificial knee for example, because it has the inherent capacity to restore function and be forgotten about.”
They said healthcare service providers could consider encouraging the naming of MCS devices.
“This could manifest as formally naming the device in patient medical records and encouraging staff to refer to the device as such. Providers may be able to find ways to use the names in correspondence about outpatient appointments, during routine monitoring, and in check-ups.”
They said MCS devices clearly mean more to their users than simply “biomechanical assistance for pumping blood around the body”.
Therefore device design, as part of the user experience, should work to enhance feelings of choice, control, and agency by appealing to the patient at different emotional levels.
“Device and service designers should work to give patients deliberate opportunities to personalise their devices in more comprehensive ways.“
They suggested manufacturers could facilitate a naming of the device in the user interface of the controller.
Beyond naming, personalisation of devices could be designed-in with features such as the ability to modify the colour or pattern on the wearable controller and battery.
“Given the clear links between emotional wellbeing and health-related quality of life outcomes, the emotional relationship between patient and device should be considered,” the study said.