The Oamk SimLab as an innovation environment for students and companies

Test and development environments are highly valued by health companies for providing direct feedback on solutions from healthcare providers, medical students, and product end-users. Oulu boasts four environments of this kind, called OuluHealth Labs. They are widely utilised by innovators from Finland and beyond who want to test and co-create their solutions in authentic environments and with genuine users. OuluHealth Labs are composed of four units: the Oamk SimLab, the OYS TestLab, the Pohde WellbeingLab, and the Mittlab. All these labs belong to the OuluHealth ecosystem and are part of the Nordic Test Beds network.

The Oamk SimLab – a versatile simulation and studio environment for healthcare and wellbeing

The Oamk SimLab is located at Oulu University of Applied Sciences. It was established in 2010 and has expanded greatly over the years. The Oamk SimLab covers bioanalytics, nursing and emergency nursing, optometry, oral health care, radiography, and radiation therapy as well as rehabilitation learning, testing, and development environments with related equipment. This lab is utilised not only for testing and developing health solutions, but also for educational purposes. It is a perfect platform for students to expand their knowledge and learn practical skills. The companies that have their innovations tested in the Oamk Lab receive invaluable feedback from students and teachers. The comments and ideas on product usability allow them to develop their products or services to cater to the growing needs of future healthcare.

Students’ active involvement in testing is a great asset in product development

One of the health companies that had their solutions tested at the Oamk SimLab is Topcon Healthcare Solutions, which offers smart and effective technology in the field of eye health. The company wanted to receive feedback on the optical software they develop and asked for the involvement of the third-year nursing and optometry students from Oulu University of Applied Sciences.

‘It was easy to recruit test participants via SimLab. We provided a recruitment poster and the SimLab coordinator forwarded it to students. On the first day, we already had over half of the desired number of participants signing up for the tests. It was great to cooperate with the University of Applied Sciences and we are planning to continue in the future as well’, said Suvi Nurmi, Product Validation Manager at Topcon Healthcare Solutions.

About a dozen students took part in the usability testing, which started with a demo session of the solution at Topcon Healthcare Solutions’ office. Next, the students explored the technology on their own with a subtle surveillance of the Topcon team. As a result of this initiative, the company received written feedback to support their product development process.

‘To be able to provide the right solutions for eye care and healthcare professionals, we test and validate the solutions not only with our internal clinical experts but also with our actual intended users. The usability tests give us valuable information on how the users interact with the solution, resulting in a design that is more intuitive and user-friendly with less use errors’, added Nurmi.

Students’ involvement in testing is part of the offering of the Oamk SimLab. It is possible for a company to have their solution tested at their own premises or at the lab.  Also, remote testing is one of the options if it matches the specification of a product. This is convenient, especially for innovators from abroad who can send their product for testing and receive evaluation and feedback during online sessions.

‘We are able to answer different needs of companies that contact us for testing. We were, for example, part of a taste case carried out by a company in collaboration with a maternity unit. The students selected for testing were actively involved in the whole process. They took part in planning, prepared a questionnaire for mothers and the personnel, monitored the testing, and prepared a final report for the company as the end result. This is a perfect example of successful cooperation between innovators and students,’ said Eija Hautala, Senior Lecturer at Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Common goals of testing include learning about the product’s usability, getting feedback on how it can improve the work of healthcare professionals and ideas on product development.

‘Every test case is tailor-made. When a company contacts us, we choose the students from our eleven fields of study, depending on the company’s needs. They include, for example, nursing, clinical optometry, physiotherapy, paramedic, occupational therapy, bioanalytic, radiography and social services. Our students are future health and social care professionals. They already have solid knowledge in the field they study so they are the right persons to provide valuable feedback on products. This is what the companies appreciate the most – the point of view of potential future users of their innovations,’ Hautala continued.

According to representatives of the Oamk SimLab, recruiting students for testing is never a problem as they are eager to participate. The students perceive testing as a great new experience and an opportunity to take a closer look at new technology. Their participation is voluntary. However, sometimes it is integrated with an ongoing training programme.

‘I think testing and bringing new solutions to the market is something needed. By joining the testing, I can influence my future workplace in the healthcare sector, so I encourage also other students to get involved. From my point of view, it is a positive and valuable experience,’ said Emmi, an optometry student.

‘It was a bit stressful at the beginning because there were quite many people observing how the testing proceeded and taking notes. However, the solution was easy to use, and a demo session prepared me well, so there was no reason to feel uncomfortable. I found a usability problem and gave feedback, so I felt that I truly contributed to testing. It was nice to be part of product development,’ added Saana, a nursing student.

The Oamk SimLab focuses on collaboration between health tech companies and students as part of developing new solutions. This Lab is mainly contacted for testing by innovators from Finland, but also foreign companies are welcome.

Read more about the Oamk SimLab and other OuluHealth Labs.

Text: Joanna Seppänen, Health & Life Science, BusinessOulu

Image (students involved in the Topcon Healthcare Solutions’ testing): The Oamk SimLab