First off, let me say that being in Rochester, MN (aka Mayo town), was a very humbling experience. By big city standards, it's a tiny town made up mostly of oversized clinical buildings, but turns out to host 138 hotels and motels as well — because people fly in from all over the world to be treated here, for everything from breast cancer to rare gastrointestinal disorders.
People in royal blue scrubs with laminated clinic nametags seem to be everywhere, and amongst them, tourist-y looking folks sporting canes, bandaged feet, and the like. Walk by the air-conditioned doorway of some inn, and you're likely to see seven wheelchairs stacked a-ready at reception. It's the kind of place where the person next to you at Starbucks is as likely to be wearing a white coat as to have tubing coming out of her nose. It made me feel very, VERY fortunate to be there under the current circumstances, I'm telling you.
The Transform event was attended by about 450 people: experts in policy, health technology and delivery, design and innovation, and a few loud voices from the patient-sphere, including myself and a guy named Matthew Sanford, who lost use of his legs in a car accident 30 years ago, and has now devoted his life to rehabilitating patients through yoga and the "mind-body connection." Does that sound like some new age hooey? But no...
Matthew speaks eloquently of how the medical world has dismissed the needs and feelings of paraplegics for far too long, and he's got the kind of warmth and energy and that makes you want to hug him, and/or shout for joy. Not sure I'm doing his work justice here. Watch this video to find out.
Two days. Twenty-six talks. Many great exchanges and new ideas. A brief summary of a few of my top-level takeaways:
On health: "We need to start thinking of 'health' as a life skill to be acquired, not sickness to be avoided," in the words of Tim Brown, CEO of the world-class design firm IDEO. This made me think about my children: are they growing up learning to look after their own health? Or will they, like most people, not know what they've got till it's gone? Time to consider what we parent-types can and should be doing on that front...
On design: "Design is too important to be left to designers." This again from the mouth of Tim Brown of IDEO, which is quite surprising, really!
The secret to IDEO's success, says the pepper-haired Brit, is not to focus on products, but rather to employ "design thinking" to ask the big questions about "solving a social need." For example, he talks about designer Marc Koska, who realized in 1984 that in the developing world, one child was dying every 24 seconds as a result of unsafe syringe practices.
In response, he developed the K1 Auto-Disable Syringe, a simple, non-reusable syringe that costs the same as standard models and its design is openly licensed to manufacturers. The K1 has drastically reduced cases of Hepatitis B and C and HIV, saving an estimated 3 million lives.
Inevitably, I reflected on the Design Challenge hosted here last Spring. We surely didn't find anything with implications as big as the K1, but did we at least use the right criteria? I think so. The winning LifeCase/LifeApp design solves the need — through less equipment, less fuss, more appealing form factor — of making diabetes less intrusive in your life.
But there's more to it than that, according to Procter & Gamble's VP of Research & Development for Health Care Karl Ronn:
"It's not enough to just envision some new utility. You have to delight people with the design."
For example, one of Karl's first assignments at P&G was apparently to revamp the Mr. Clean soap product. What he realized was that cleaning floors was America's No. 1 most-hated household chore. Not because of the soap, but because of the messy, ugly, tiring tool used to do it with. His response? The Swiffer, which makes cleaning floors a heck of a lot quicker and more fun. Even delightful? The Swiffer now grosses just under a billion dollars in sales each year.
Of course, managing diabetes isn't like cleaning floors; it's much worse, because the outcomes are so much more vital and less predictable. But then again, we PWDs have been crying out for better aesthetics in the contraptions that keep us alive. Even in chronic disease care, a little delight goes a long way, methinks...