It was my first time at the Healthcare Experience Conference, and having typically attended clinical conferences in the past, I was blown away by the level of passion and enthusiasm of the attendees (an interesting mix of designers, researchers, and other “healthcare disrupters”). Emerging from the dynamic mix of presentations were 2 key themes that kept resurfacing throughout the conference: Mindfulness, and designing for behavior change.
Since I have a background in integrative medicine, my ears tend to perk up whenever I hear people use words like mindfulness and centeredness outside a yoga or meditation class. Not only were these words mentioned, but they kept reappearing throughout the day:
- Neema Morajevi, director of the Calming Lab at Stanford, spoke about strategies to embed mindfulness into devices that already pervade our lives
- Jacob Reider, MD, chief medical officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, focused on the need for providers to feel “centered” themselves before they can truly help others
- Jan Bruce of meQuilibrium boldly declared that “stress is the new fat” and shared how stress is correlated with obesity
Although I’m thrilled that these topics are being valued and promoted, what does it say about our healthcare system that I had to go to a “design” conference to hear about topics related to prevention and wellness? I think it says that designers are awesome, and it reinforces the importance of making design strategy a critical part of planning for patient-centered educational programs.
Designing for behavior change
Aside from wellness, the other main theme that emerged was the importance of engaging the patient in behavior-change strategies. From the research I do with patients, I know that they have individual needs and goals related to their health and their treatment. However, it was inspiring to hear others approach behavior change from different perspectives:
- Jane McGonigal, game designer and creator of SuperBetter, who shared her indirect approach to behavior change for users who are in the midst of health crises. Instead of tackling specific health issues directly, she designs games that boost users' problem-solving skills, strengthen users' resiliency, and help users expand their own social support. These new capabilities in turn enable users to take control over their own health situations and foster posttraumatic growth
- David Sobel, MD, MPH, medical director of health education and health promotion at Kaiser Permanente, talked about the indirect health benefits of behavior change—the confidence that results from succeeding at something. He believes that the key predictor of a health outcome is not the behavior change itself but the increased self-efficacy that results from that change. We can help patients by working with them to identify a potential behavior change that is personal, specific, easy, rapid, and pleasurable
Lacking the patient’s own voice and involvement, a behavior-change program is unlikely to change behavior. This validates my view that clients must conduct user research before planning such programs, and they ought to consider interactive approaches where possible—to better engage patients in their own behavior change.
All in all, the HxD Conference reenergized my passion for helping patients and also reinforced the work that we are doing at HealthEd—we listen to our patients, we understand their barriers and motivators, and we design programs to help them achieve better health outcomes. I learned a lot, was inspired, and met great people—what more could you ask for? Also, they offered free 15-minute chair massages. To me, that alone was worth the cost of admission.