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At Medicine X, designers offer their take on why patient-centered design is top priority

Aaron Sklar at MedXAs a Medicine X veteran, I'm used to hearing patients talk about the importance of putting patients' needs first. But yesterday afternoon, I got to hear about patient-centered design from designers.

At a session called "Fulfilling the promise of technology in health through human centered design," Joan Saba, an architect who designs hospitals for NBBJ, used a personal story to illustrate how good design is essential to patient care. Her mother recently became sick and needed to stay at the hospital overnight, and "this is where she spent 24 hours," she said. Sounds of ambulances wailing and doors slamming filled the lecture hall while an image of a bed surrounded by electrical cords and medical equipment lit up the screen. "Her room was right above the ambulance bay," Saba explained.

With recent advances in technology, hospital rooms don't need to look, sound or feel like this, said Saba. "So, what should a patient's room look like now?" It being a calm place (unlike her mom's room) is important, but there are other considerations, too: "Now we are thinking about it being a place for learning and information exchange."

This desire to think about such an exchange, and improved doctor/patient communication, was echoed in the talk by Marc Katz, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Bon Secours Heart & Vascular Institute. He told the story of meeting patient-advocate Sarah Kucharski, who has the rare disease fibromuscular dysplasia and has endured many medical procedures, including a triple bypass surgery, back at the first Medicine X. "I go to several media conferences a year, and this was the first time I'd seen a patient present," he recalled. "This was an eye-opening experience."

Hearing about what Kucharski went through, prompted Katz to start querying other patients about their cardiac surgeries. "The biggest problem was communication — patients didn't feel they understood what was happening [while at the hospital]," Katz said. So he helped develop Co-Pilot, a program that assigns a personal nurse to each patient. The program is still in its early stages but it seems to be paying off, Katz said: In a sample of about 150 patients, the Co-Pilot program reduced the duration of hospital stay and readmission, also, patients reported greater satisfaction.

After a talk from pain management expert Frank Lee, MD, on a project he started to increase transparency about the way patients' prescription narcotic use is tracked and to hopefully, in turn, curb prescription painkiller abuse, speaker Aaron Sklar closed things off with a provocative statement. Sklar, managing director at Healthagen and co-founder of Prescribe Design, suggested it may be "time for technology to fade into the background." What he meant is that it is the patient, not technology, that should be at the center of health-care design. "Actually we just coined a new term to describe this," Sklar said. "D-patients: Patients that design."

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category. Those unable to attend the event in person can watch via webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed.

Photo of Sklar courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

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