The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Patient involvement in healthcare - Is self-treatment a possible future for healthcare?

By: Malin Mårtensson, August 7 2014Posted in: The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Looking at the buzz surrounding the idea of patient involvement in developing and targeting healthcare, with the aim of providing a better patient experience and better care, I wonder – as a designer – about the implications and future of some trends I have seen developing in the industry.

As a designer, I am often asking whether it is possible to improve the quality of work within healthcare by involving patients in the design process. Can healthcare providers get a better clinical outcome or higher efficiency by seeing the patient as a stakeholder? What can we expect patients to have opinions about? What should they have opinions about? How much should they be involved? I would imagine that there is an ethical dilemma to consider, and there will be circumstances where patient involvement is more applicable and of more value.

In asking these questions, many of the answers are coming in the form of lectures and webinars in which experts go beyond the basic idea of user experience and product development theory, i.e., involving the end-user early in the development stages to get better results, and into uncharted territory. Taking into account new technologies enabling new ways of delivering healthcare coupled with existing and predicted healthcare worker shortages, some rather revolutionary ideas are being proposed.

A case in point: during 2012 and 2013 the Swedish Association for Industrial Designers (SVID) presented a whole series of webinars with the theme "users and patients as active-co-creators" (only in Swedish). One of these webinars was given by a Swedish hospital that had involved their patients in creating a “patient-driven” dialysis ward. This particular project was seen as a success and its implications were that the patients themselves could perform their own dialysis (see video, in Swedish with English subtitles). Medical staff was on hand if complications arose, but basically the patient could independently perform the whole procedure without assistance. Upsides of this new approach included reduced staff cost in this department by 25 percent, a better clinical outcome (lower levels of phosphate in the blood, lower infection rates and less use of medication), more flexibility in scheduling for patients, who are not dependent on the working hours of the staff and improvement in patient knowledge about and interaction with their disease.

For me the self-administered dialysis example feels extreme, where virtually the whole treatment process is completely taken care of by the patient him or herself. Monitoring of blood sugar levels is done independently every day by diabetic patients, for instance. But for me it feels like hooking oneself up to a dialysis machine is taking it many steps further – a step too far perhaps. Is this a trend? Will we see more and more of this type of self-service in the form of patients diagnosing themselves and potentially administering their own treatment? What are the risks, benefits and opportunities posed by such a future? How does that change the way I see my role today? That is, if I develop some new solution for the healthcare business, will I take the patients’ needs into consideration in the same way as I do today taking my products’ primary users – surgeons and nurses – into consideration?

In my mind, we can design better products and solutions if we involve patients as users. And one day in the near future, these patients may well be primary users of some of these products and solutions.

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The surgical and wound care environment is always changing. The Mölnlycke Health Care blog addresses topics and trends in surgery and wound care. Among these topics are efficiency, health economy, infection control and patient safety. Read more about this blog and how to comment.

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