I’m now officially in this incredible and super lucky position of sitting across multiple disciplines all at the same time; i straddle across being an artist, a designer, a healthcare professional, a researcher and a patient. It’s super exciting but it’s also incredibly scary – even overwhelming.
I’m kind of unique in this respect. There’s not that many of us hybrids rocking around in healthcare, or who are “out” about it, but I think that’s going to change dramatically over the next few years. Healthcare is building up towards a renewal, globally, to change from being just this service where you get things sort of fixed – and that’s it – discharged. But it’s going to change into this service that is adapted to personal needs; both preventative and continuous care – in different models. That the healthcare education model will provide art & design training in it too – that it’s not just all numbers and science – & proper useful & enjoyable reflective practice training. It’s going to experience a (probably very slow but) beautiful renaissance – where things will be designed purposely with and for the user; whether that be the patient/citizen or the healthcare professional, using stories/narrative and lived experience and critical reflection in the process. That healthcare professionals have the tools to design things themselves too.
Whilst I am obviously very passionate about combining all of this together I attended a talk last week by Elizabeth (Lizzy) Scott on the Femcare information strategy (Lizzy is radiotherapist leading this project) that’s undergoing within the radiotherapy department I train at. I originally attended due to my passion for better patient information, but what this talk showed me was exactly the reason why it’s so incredibly important to think not just in terms of information; but the design and presentation of information and equipment is also equally as and incredibly important in being able to enhance quality of life and treatment experience and compliance.
This Femcare information is aimed at patients who have had a radical course of radiotherapy treatment to the pelvic region. The side-effects of this treatment can have massive quality of life issues in the future for these patients, especially when it comes to their sex-life.
I believe, in general, we don’t talk enough about the effect of cancer on peoples’ sex lives and relationships, and their relationship with their body. Change goes deeper than the physical. It’s emotional. It’s psychological. It’s part of who you are. We know embracing the changes in intimacy can be one of the most challenging parts of feeling ‘you’ again. Butt issues like these can be – due to the very British nature of us – difficult to broach the subject – we may just brush it off – downplay it, really don’t want to talk about and feel embarrassed. We maybe really open to discuss it. But everyone is different and we need a strategy to reflect this.
The correct information early on is incredibly important in being able to facilitate better quality of life later on for these patients. In the talk, we were given some leaflets – which had some pretty intense diagrams of how to use a clinical dilator, and of course a dry pastel rendition of some flowers on the front to represent femininity? – how imaginative.
If you’re able to move past this leaflet, what comes next is the the dilators we provide – which are so clinical and intimidating and cold – as pictured below:
I can’t imagine what a user group would say about using these after treatment – whilst I can’t stress enough that they’re extremely very valid and very important – and i’m glad we do provide them rather than nothing. It makes me think the people who designed them didn’t really *think* about the user – just the use of them.
Lizzy discussed how she – too – wanted to redesign the Femcare strategy, including the leaflet and had done some research into finding better dilators that may be less intimidating but do the job. Her efforts were rewarded when she found http://pleasuresolutions.co.uk/ – a company with an ambition to help people reconnect and explore new realities after cancer, sexually. Whose products are specifically designed with clinicians and patients and with Japanese production as pictured below (made from a gentle Unique SoftTouch material with anti-dust coating
I’ve never seen such an obvious need for redesign and rethinking with empathy and the end-user than in this case.
Imagine what the change in outcomes and perceptions would be if we in the NHS used the latter, widely, in practice. I suspect it would only be much more positive with more compliance.
What all this reveals to me is that we – as HCP and as artists/designers/thinkers/researchers – should use our superpowers of empathy and prototyping. Underlying both of these is a commitment to learning — learning about people’s needs, learning through experimentation and trial, and arriving at a solution through discovery.
Creativity isn’t being used to its full potential in healthcare today. There are many other creative disciplines that have a critical role to play too. It is critical to create the conditions in the healthcare industry for designers/artists — along with healthcare ‘natives’ — to put the disciplines of empathy and prototyping into action.
When sharing my thoughts with the department (when I was asked to, lol) I said we make children’s hospitals all more accessible and aesthetically pleasing – why don’t we do that for the general population because it’s obviously do-able. They instantly jumped on, “well they’d have the money to do that”. But the fact of the matter is – if you’re spending the money on doing something anyways (as they were in this instance), or paying for clinically intimidating equipment that has obvious potential negative user-implication – it is either cost-nutural or at least more cost effective in the long-term. We need to stop blaming funding as a reason not to do something, we need to see past the short-term. Co-production/design can help us save money in the long-run through impact and investment.
I feel like I am just at the very, very beginning of this journey but I am committed to this change. I believe in the power of creative practice — people-centered design/thinking — to radically transform healthcare.
Creative practice has the power to:
- share and curate compelling stories that reframe issues.
- I have the ability to synthesize complexity down to actionable challenges.
- open up real collaborative practice
- reimagining tools that enable rather than disrupt the healthcare workflow and empower patients/carers
- advocating for the patient through new services, communications & products.
- and much more.
We’ve got far to go but here’s my first and most important challenge as this creative hybrid healthcare professional:
1# People feel understood and cared for.
I can’t wait to see what Lizzy does to re-invision and re-invigerate Femcare to help enhance patients quality of life. Go Lizzy!