A designer, a medical student, and a business executive all walk into a room. Their objective? Use a person-centered design – combined with their own unique skills – to solve critical health issues locally and nationally.
This interdisciplinary mix represents the diverse cohort of Master of Arts in Health-Focused Design program at the University of Texas at Austin. This one-of-a-kind program was born out of a partnership between the Design Institute for Health at Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Art’s School of Design and Creative Technologies. Students learn design methodologies and gain health-focused knowledge, then put their skills to the test as part of a semester-long design project at the intersection of design and health – the studio capstone – for a partner or a healthcare system organization.
Diana siebenaler, director of partnerships and network strategy design for the Design Institute for Health, says the program’s studio projects cultivate long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships between students and local or national organizations.
“Studio projects vary widely: some focus on holistic community health, while others focus on a single disease in a population,” says Siebenaler. “Our goal is to develop learners who are renaissance people, equipped to examine any problem, ask the right questions, and use a designer’s toolkit to reinvent health and healthcare. ”
Support the health needs of deaf students
What happens when a deaf or hard of hearing person’s doctor does not sign and no interpreter is available? And how easily can a deaf student schedule a visit to health services over the phone? When design students teamed up Gallaudet University, their mission was to rethink the health services system to better meet the needs of deaf and hard of hearing high school and college students.
Through 30 interviews with the participation of interpreters, the team learned about student attitudes towards health services, campus geography, and even the healthcare ecosystem in the greater Washington, DC area.
“We were able to dive deeper into the patient experience than we normally would as medical students on a normal clinical work day,” says Julia Taylor, now a fourth-year medical student.
At the heart of the project was the creation of links between two services on campus: the peer wellness program and the campus health clinic. The team’s first recommendation was to create a partnership to harness the trust of the peer wellness program with the clinical expertise of the health center. The team also recommended creating spaces dedicated to mental health for high school students who attend the Model high school for the deaf on the Gallaudet campus to avoid straining the clinic’s resources.
“Probably the most interesting design solution has been to develop a framework for an application so that students can schedule their own appointments,” Taylor said. “We also laid the groundwork to create an interconnected telehealth system with signature providers in the DC area.”
Gallaudet executives have taken up the three strategies: the two health programs provide for a joint blood drive, high school rooms are reserved for mental health spaces and the executives plan to transmit the framework of the application to Apple partners. . Christopher Moreland, MD, associate professor in the department of internal medicine at Dell Med, served as an advisor to the design team as a member of the deaf community currently practicing medicine; he notes the lens change required to implement effective patient and provider strategies.
“People often think that accommodations, such as interpreters, exist for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” says Moreland. “This framing of disability depends on the context. Professional interpreters facilitate communication between everyone in the room. As a resident, when I signed with a deaf patient and her children, my non-signing attending physician subsequently noticed that he was in the linguistic minority.
Taylor adds, “I really understood that as physicians we have to rise to the occasion and meet people where they are. How can we rebuild health systems to meet the needs of our patients? “
Take the needs of families to heart
When children with heart defects undergo surgery, families often have to make a difficult transition from a dedicated postoperative hospital team to managing their child’s complex health needs at home. Fourth-year medical students Madeline Hanes and Bonnie Du were part of a design team in partnership with the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, a partnership between UT Health Austin (the clinical practice of Dell Med) and Dell Children’s Medical Center, to improve the discharge process for families of patients with monoventricular congenital heart disease through a project called Corage.
“Almost one in 100 babies are born with a congenital heart defect, and a quarter of these defects are very serious, requiring multiple surgeries and long-term care,” says Hanes.
The Corage team conducted more than 20 interviews with clinical care staff, ranging from doctors and social workers to dieticians, as well as five patient families. From there, the team used design principles to glean key insights. Du and Hanes provided technical know-how, while their teammates provided global perspective and design expertise.
“We conducted what is called an artefact analysis of hospital and clinical environments,” says Du. “We took pictures of doctors’ binders or patient whiteboards and pulled information from them, ultimately coming up with a need for benchmarks for patients during the discharge process. ”
After analyzing the options with providers and patients, the team arrived at their design solution: a customizable output binder for parents. They have seen strong positive reactions after putting it in the hands of families and will continue to refine the resource as it evolves.
“Having a child with congenital heart disease is very difficult for families,” says Carlos Mery, MD, MPH, professor at Dell Med and head of the Department of Pediatric and Congenital Cardiothoracic Surgery. “The family workbook that the design team created has had a huge impact on our families by decreasing anxiety, engaging them throughout their hospital stay, and making the transition home easier. . Our families love it.
A helping hand in an urban food desert
A harsh reality for many individuals and families is to prioritize daily needs – for example, choosing to buy insulin or groceries in a given month. Zaara Qasim, now a fourth year student at Dell Med, was part of a team that used human-centered design to deal with these types of impossible situations.
Powered by Equidade ATX, an Austin organization that supports communities east of I-35, Live Well / Vive Bien is a project that seeks to remove barriers to health equity in the Eastern Crescent of Austin, a area heavily affected by a 1920s master plan that created a legacy of race and financial segregation in the city.
“There is a shorter life expectancy, higher rates of food insecurity and less access to necessary care in the Eastern Crescent,” says Qasim. “Our team was brought in to be part of Equidad ATX’s larger work with this critical issue.”
Qasim and four other design students were tasked with adding to the ecosystem of local health services with a mobile grocery store to tackle food insecurity. In order to truly understand the needs of the community, the team conducted 70 hours of interviews with community members and leaders.
“Our biggest idea has been to understand the community’s sense of distrust of large organizations,” Qasim said. “We spent time building trust and empathy. Our message was, “We are here to stay. We care what you think.
From there, the team went through a cycle of testing mobile store prototypes and obtaining stakeholder feedback. The five students also strengthened partnerships between Equidad ATX and local farms like Urban roots and Flatsharing to create a diverse pipeline of supplies. At the end of the spring semester, the students presented their final prototype at Equidad ATX. Now, a redeveloped Capital Metro bus has become a grocery store in the Eastern Crescent.
“Doctors have immense power to make meaningful changes in the lives of patients,” Qasim said. “This project legitimized my passion for health outside the home. I strive to be a physician who champions preventative health care measures.
Glass Screen, Faculty Director and Associate Professor at the School of Design and Creative Technologies, summarizes the newly launched program:
“As evidenced by these three projects, a defining quality of the health-focused design master’s program is that it prepares graduates to tackle difficult problems by sending them out into the world knowledgeable about the healthcare industry. health. and ready to deploy the mindset of a designer, ”says Glass. “In addition, their training in our program allows them to work in multiple disciplines, which will be necessary to truly transform the future of health and healthcare. ”