Patient, Heal Thyself. Oh Yeah, We Have the Technology

February 10, 2013 – 9:53 am

The Smart Salon panel debates patient architecture. Eric Freitag from Smart Design is seated second from right.

Can We Design a Better Patient? was the catchy title of a Smart Salon event held at the Royal College of Art in London on 29 January 2013. Headed by design consultancy Smart Design and chaired by Jeremy Myerson, director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design Research, the event brought together healthcare stakeholders from the public and private sectors to discuss avenues for patient empowerment, especially immediately after the patient has been diagnosed with a chronic condition.

The first six months following diagnosis is a critically important time in the patient’s life, says Eric Freitag, Director, Smart Design. As many as 30% of patients are back in the hospital within 30 days of a surgical procedure simply because of their inability to adapt to new behaviours. This is traumatic for the patient and a significant burden on healthcare payers wrestling with tight budgets. Building a better patient is one remedy.

“Some of the conversation at the Smart Salon was focussed on technologies that remind patients to take their medication and that track adherence,” says Freitag. “That is where a behavioural change framework comes in—the design of digital ecosystems that support a device or activity that guides patients towards new and better behaviours,” says Freitag.

Remote monitoring technologies are part of that toolbox. Motion sensors and automated systems, typically used in ambient assisted living environments, continuously monitor patient behaviour and alert caregivers when it deviates from expected behaviour patterns. The technology even extends to phone calls. Depending on how the patient answers the phone—Is he alert or befuddled?—can be a marker for intervention. Andy Ward of GE Healthcare presented a well-received overview of these technologies, according to Freitag. Wearable electronics providing real-time monitoring are the next step in the march toward a continuum of care, adds Freitag.

Smart Design has organised salons before, but this was the first one devoted to healthcare. It won’t be the last, adds Freitag. The wide-ranging  conversation was succesful not only in highlighting technologies that are available today to empower patients, but it also provided Smart Design with a platform to present the user perspective.

“Healthcare is an engineering- and science-based industry focused on efficacy,” says Freitag. “Lots of lab tests are conducted to make sure everything works, but we have learned, as a design consultancy, that these proven technologies often need design help to make them useful. There’s a difference between something that works and something that is usable, something that is well engineered but not necessarily well designed,” explains Freitag. “Our role is to help make the technology useful.”

 Norbert Sparrow

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