The Future of Health Podcast

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Helping people lead healthy lives isn’t just offering them technically sound medical services. Maybe that’s how we cure disease, but it’s not the solution that will bring health.

Marquise Stillwell, Founder and Principal of the design studio Openbox, spends his days thinking about creating better experiences for people having to work their way through the healthcare system. He wants to design— and is designing — pieces of that system that encourage wellness and, where medicine is needed, engender trust in the people using them.

For us it’s all about patient equity and finding ways to think about the system. Not just outcomes, but what does it mean when you and your family walk into a facility? What does it feel like in the middle of the night your child is sick? What are the things that you’re checking the box on, the things that you can or cannot do. These are real life issues, and we need a lot of different people to come in and have a say. Not just physicians or administrators but designers, scientists, engineers, artists.

It’s the intersection between business and culture. As Marquise puts it, finding “the behaviors and habits that make up who we are.” From there, it’s finding people outside of healthcare to join with the healthcare community to find creative ideas.

“We need to get better at borrowing from other types of companies.”

Marquise pointed out something that was, frankly, a jolt. Unexpected. But on further consideration, makes a lot of sense:

Too many times we believe we’ve dumbed-down healthcare into the essential needs of care. But there is an experience. And what is the experience that we want to have, both as individual users of healthcare, but as family because it really is a community. When someone gets sick we all care about that person. And you know what does that experience mean for us all.

See that? we collectively think we’ve stripped down healthcare to a point where it’s just medicine — “the essential needs of care.” It’s all about getting people better by getting rid of the extraneous and just treating them.

Instead, Marquise is arguing, it’s unhealthy to strip healthcare down to the studs. We are emotional beings that need something a little softer. A house with walls, electrical, plumbing and drywall may be functional. It is not, however, a good place to live.

Marquise said “we think we’ve dumbed down” healthcare. Which would imply that it’s been reduced to something so simple that even an uninformed patient could understand it. Of course we know this isn’t the case, one of patients’ biggest frustrations is the language barrier around highly technical medical information. There’s a chance we’re taking Marquise too far on this but sit tight, let’s take the house analogy further. In theory, stripping everything down to the basics is a good thing. So, we get rid of switches and instead “simplify” turning on a light to connecting two exposed wires, pulling them apart to go dark. Simple, right?

Technically, yes. But in practice, it’s both aesthetically ugly and impractical. That’s what we’ve done by making healthcare about “the essential needs of care.”

At this point, it’s hard to engender trust, or to get people to take action in their own health. “Simplifying” healthcare has backfired and actually made something even more complex and, therefore, frustrating and unmanageable for people. Again, not a recipe for trust.

With creativity, collaboration and a shift in expectations (which are all happening), we can redesign the system to soften the technical language. We can repaint, install light switches, and maybe even add a few pillows and paintings so that healthcare is a (more) comfortable thing for people to be part of. That, perhaps, will help build the trust that is needed to find success not just in delivery of medical care, but in individual and societal pursuit of health.

Listen to the whole thing on iTunes or Stitcher, and see what you think about Marquise’s point.

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