Assessing the Usability and Feasibility of Digital Assistant Tools for Direct Support Professionals: Participatory Design and Pilot-Testing

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Background: The United States is experiencing a direct support professional (DSP) crisis, with demand far exceeding supply. Although generating documentation is a critical responsibility, it is one of the most wearisome aspects of DSPs’ jobs. Technology that enables DSPs to log informal time-stamped notes throughout their shift could help reduce the burden of end-of-shift documentation and increase job satisfaction, which in turn could improve the quality of life of the individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) whom DSPs support. However, DSPs, with varied ages, levels of education, and comfort using technology, are not likely to adopt tools that detract from caregiving responsibilities or increase workload; therefore, technological tools for them must be relatively simple, extremely intuitive, and provide highly valued capabilities. Objective: This paper describes the development and pilot-testing of a digital assistant tool (DAT) that enables DSPs to create informal notes throughout their shifts and use these notes to facilitate end-of-shift documentation. The purpose of the pilot study was to assess the usability and feasibility of the DAT. Methods: The research team applied an established user-centered participatory design process to design, develop, and test the DAT prototypes between May 2020 and April 2023. Pilot-testing entailed having 14 DSPs who support adults with IDDs use the first full implementation of the DAT prototypes during 2 or 3 successive work shifts and fill out demographic and usability questionnaires. Results: Participants used the DAT prototypes to create notes and help generate end-of-shift reports. The System Usability Scale score of 81.79 indicates that they found the prototypes easy to use. Survey responses imply that using the DAT made it easier for participants to produce required documentation and suggest that they would adopt the DAT if this tool were available for daily use. Conclusions: Simple technologies such as the DAT prototypes, which enable DSPs to use mobile devices to log time-stamped notes throughout their shift with minimal effort and use the notes to help write reports, have the potential to both reduce the burden associated with producing documentation and enhance the quality (level of detail and accuracy) of this documentation. This could help to increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover in DSPs, both of which would help improve the quality of life of the individuals with IDDs whom they support. The pilot test results indicate that DSPs found the DAT easy to use. Next steps include (1) producing more robust versions of the DAT with additional capabilities, such as storing data locally on mobile devices when Wi-Fi is not available; and (2) eliciting input from agency directors, families, and others who use data about adults with IDDs to help care for them to ensure that data produced by DSPs are relevant and useful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere51612
JournalJMIR Human Factors
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Health Informatics


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