Clearly, we're huge fans of patient-centered design and innovation. That's why we love what Dr. Joyce Lee, a pediatric endo and researcher at the University of Michigan, is up to in challenging the status quo with progressive design-thinking in healthcare.

You may know Joyce by her online moniker, Doctor as Designer; she's been involved in this movement since 2012 when she bucked the old-fashioned paper action plans on allergies at her kids' elementary school by making a YouTube video with her then-6-year-old son about his symptoms and how to use the emergency EpiPen.Joyce Lee

The video pretty much went viral, and since then, Joyce has focused much of her research and clinical work on mobile tech and social media use in the Diabetes Community.

Joyce has her hands in many different healthcare design-related initiatives, including the #MakeHealth effort we introduced last November, and the first concrete project that's come from that is Testing Tuesdays, a crowdsourced effort aimed at transforming healthcare for type 1 diabetes (!) She's also working with engineering design students on a gamification project for diabetes education, as well as her own research study of the Nightscout / CGM in the Cloud community.

At the recent JDRF Type One Nation event in Metro Detroit a couple of weeks ago, Joyce held a workshop for teens with diabetes, encouraging them to design their own dream diabetes device...

A Guest Post by Joyce Lee

As a pediatric endocrinologist interested in design I have been thinking a lot about the answer to a key question: What is design and why should it matter to the Diabetes Community?

For those in the D-Community, that's a big issue that influences so much in life -- glucose meters, insulin pens or the pumps used, continuous glucose monitors, smartphone apps and how these devices all talk to each other.

We all know what bad design is, because there’s a lot of it in diabetes, from the hardware to the healthcare delivery system:

  • Insulin pumps that look like they are from the early 1990’s with green screens; glucose meters
  • Insulin pumps and sensors that don’t share data with each other
  • Doctors who expect patients to “go find a fax and then fax us your blood sugars!”
  • “We promise to give you feedback on your real-time blood sugar -- in 48 hours!"

Health+DesignThe list goes on, and of course 'Mine editor Amy Tenderich first described a number of these design failures back in 2007 with her hugely influential "Open Letter to Steve Jobs” that helped bring in a new wave of innovation and creativity in design thinking.

In the past decade, there have been some slight improvements and things are getting better, but I think everyone would agree that there’s still a LOT of work to do in merging healthcare and design-thinking.

And that’s where human-centered design thinking (HCD) becomes really important. It’s been described as "an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving." HCD has lead to the creation of blockbuster products like the Apple iPod and iPhone and the Nest Thermostat. It’s the method used by many successful design consultancies like IDEO and Frog Design. The application of this method is now slowly expanding to healthcare, but in my opinion, adoption is not happening fast enough. 

Over the last year, I have been fortunate to work with a fantastic collaborative innovation network of individuals who are passionate about accelerating the integration of design into healthcare, called HealthDesignBy.Us. We represent patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, designers, engineers, technologists, makers, and tinkerers who believe that patient and caregiver involvement are central to the transformation of healthcare. To support this mission, we facilitate patient-centered design workshops, pair patient advocates with designers to create engaging educational materials, create innovations in diabetes education using participatory game design, and promote a “maker” movement for healthcare.

Earlier this month, we held a design workshop at the JDRF TypeOneNation Summit in Southeast Michigan. More than 100 teenagers with diabetes came out for that, going through the entire design-thinking process in an hour to come up with their own dream diabetes device.

Teen Design Workshop

The process was similar to that at the first-ever DiabetesMine Innovation Summit in 2011; the quest for a "dream diabetes device" started with empathy, asking questions of the user to understand what problems and obstacles they are facing with their diabetes. The groups then narrowed the list to define a specific problem to tackle. With the problem in hand, the groups could then begin the process of ideation, to collaboratively and creatively brainstorm a ton of solutions to that problem, which could include wild or impossible ideas. Finally, the group moved onto prototyping, building a model of their solution(s), and testing with the user to iteratively improve on the design.

The results were outstanding. Teens are natural design thinkers, way better than us adults, and in the constraint of one hour they were able to come up with a bunch of different prototypes that could make life easier with diabetes. Here are a couple examples and prototypes that came from the workshop:


The need to alert someone when you are having problems with diabetes in school, but the school won’t let you carry your mobile phone.

Solution: “Pagger” (a combo of the designer's name and 'pager')

This pagger would be for diabetes only “so you can take it to school and it’s called a medical device so they wouldn’t take it away. It has all the buttons where if you feel low, high, dizzy or tired or if you have to use the bathroom, or if you’re moody or shaky, there’s an alert where someone can come get you. You can also have choices of who you want to send it to. So you click a button of the person you want to send it to and it goes straight to their phone.”



We haven't been able to create the digital or real prototype yet, but we do plan on developing the Pagger app.


Sometimes it’s annoying to get lots of text messages from your mom about diabetes stuff when you are a teenager with type 1 diabetes.

Solution: “Diabetes Emojis”

Diabetes-specific emojis that make communication easier between parent and child during school. This is what the teens came up with, for an on-paper conceptual drawing:

We are now in the process of creating the diabetes emoji app for Android and iPhone!  Here are the digital prototypes:

To me, these are powerful mobile applications that are critically important for managing diabetes and I know that because they were designed by the experts!

I'm excited about where this is all leading us. This teen design workshop guide was inspired by a similar one called The Wallet Project at Stanford's design school, and the team here includes a lot of great collaborators like Nancy Benovich Gilby (Professor of Entrepreneurship at U-M's School of Information), D-Mom Amy Ohmer (@NatSweetSisters), and co-facilitators Emily Hirschfeld and Jillian Rhind. Of course, we also have Jawad Nasser and Xiaoying He, students from the University of Michigan who've been hands-on with the app design and development.

We're certainly interested in finding other people to join our design/making journey, and anyone curious about participating or contributing can sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates on what's happening. We are also planning a #MakeHealth Fest event on Oct. 25, 2015, to be held in Ann Arbor, MI. Make sure to follow us at @healthbyus on Twitter.

Thanks for sharing this, Joyce! It's about time this type of design thinking spread across the country! We hope to hear more later in the year, especially as we gather stakeholders at our annual Innovation Summit in November.

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.


This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.