Silence is deadly

My posts always argue that as designers (and engineers, manufacturers, etc), we have a responsibility to create smart, beautiful, and useful products for our users. But lately, I’ve realized that users have a responsibility, too. As an OmniPod user, I failed at mine.

Recently Insulet Corporation and Abbott Diabetes Care issued a recall of the test strips used with my OmniPod’s glucometer. A change to the technology in 2010 apparently lead to the test strips not working properly with OmniPod, showing blood sugar results that are falsely low.

I found alarming results after I began testing with another meter in addition to my OmniPod: when my blood sugar is low, the results are off by 1-2 points; when my blood sugar is normal, the results are off by 4-5 points; but the higher my blood sugar, the more disparate the results. I once saw 43 point difference – my meter under-reported my blood sugar by 25%. As a result, I’ve been running more hyperglycemic than I knew.

Why is that so dangerous? In the short-term, high blood sugar (or hyperglycemia) causes headaches, blurred vision, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. In the long-term, it causes damage to nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs, and is a leading cause of blindness in the US.

So I’m angry with Insulet and Abbott about this. But I’m also angry with myself. Why? Because in hindsight, I knew. Or at least, I suspected.

Since switching to OmniPod, my control has gotten worse, and I’ve long had niggling thoughts that there might be a problem with my meter. I made halfhearted attempts to test my theory, but never followed through to the extent that I should have. And when I got a new OmniPod last summer, I (incorrectly) assumed that the problem was solved – because I never dreamed the problem was with all OmniPod meters. But after 6 months with the new meter, my control was still bad, and again I started to have those suspicions.

So when I received the recall notice, my first words were, “I KNEW IT!”

But if I knew it, why didn’t I do something about? Why didn’t I test my theory? Why didn’t I contact Abbott and Insulet with my suspicions? Or ask OmniPod forum readers if they were seeing the same thing? I pride myself on being a smart woman. But right now, I feel kind of dumb.

As the reader, you might be feeling outraged (either for me or because of me), thinking she didn’t fail Insulet and Abbott, they failed her … they had a responsibility to make sure things worked the way they are supposed to!

You’re absolutely right, and I’m not making excuses for them. They did have that responsibility, and they failed. Users should be able to trust their devices (especially when their life depends on it). But that trust shouldn’t be blind. Mistakes happen. It’s not ideal, but it is reality. Don’t we as users have a responsibility to pay attention and let companies know when we think there’s a problem? I think that we do.

With social media, consumer reports, and online rating platforms, companies have more access to consumer feedback than ever before. And I’ve argued that it’s the company’s responsibility to listen to that feedback. But that depends on users providing feedback; they need to be equipped and empowered to do so. We’re definitely equipping them to talk to us, but we’re not empowering them to do so. So how do we empower them?

The first thing that comes to mind for me, is that we have to let them know we’re listening! Too often when users do give us feedback, they might get an automated email response, but nothing more. It’s a one-sided conversation. If you try talking to a person seated next to you and they don’t respond, do you keep trying? That’s what’s happening to our users. So we’ve got to be more responsive when they do contact us. And we’ve got to reach out to them. Most users will only speak up when they’ve had a great experience or an awful one. If we don’t reach out, we’ll never hear from the users who represent the bulk of our target market.

How else can we empower our users to talk to us? Anyone? If you speak up, I promise to listen…

Carolynn Johnson

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