HxD 2012 = Healthcare UX Awesomeness

The healthcare experience design conference was held in Beantown, MA last Monday, and I wanted to get some thoughts down before I head on vacation for 2 weeks and forget everything. It was really a transformative experience for me.

Beantown from the hotel

I was inspired and moved by the speakers, but the most important part of the conference was being able to meet people who are equally dedicated to improving healthcare through design. The folks I met in the hallways and nearby drinking holes were from all over the country and world, and many of them had a story to tell about why they came to this field. I met a pharmacy student from St Louis, some Interaction Design Institute folks from Copenhagen, design researchers from Boulder/Portland OR/NYC, and more. After a few hours of getting to know people, i really felt that I had found my brethren. The people I met were motivated by love and compassion to help find better solutions for ‘patients like them’ (or patients like their family members). It was a safe environment for me, one where I felt ok with sharing my health history. I showed a few people the timeline concept, in passing, and people had a generally positive response to it.


One of the most moving moments for me was seeing Regina Holliday speak about how she has used art to demand change in healthcare. Regina’s husband died of cancer, and while he was dying she was shocked at the lack of coordination in his care and her difficulty obtaining his medical records. She now paints murals and awesome jackets to make a statement about the state of healthcare. Through her talk Regina’s voice sometimes boomed, powerful and assertive, and at other times it was raw and sorrowful. As she talked about the power of painting to tell a story, I thought about my old drawings from college; brutal sketches of my weak smile, a magritte-esque colored pencil self-portrait of me and my chest scar (ceci n’est pas une cicatrice). I’ve been having a hell of a time with my smile lately, and thinking back on these old drawings tears started running down my cheeks. I realized I have been suppressing a lot of my sadness about my lack of a smile. I somehow get through the tough moments, awkward face-to-face meetings where I can tell by the slight furrow in someone’s brow that my face is ‘not as expected.’ I get through, I move on, I apologize after the fact sometimes, and overall I am ‘fine,’  but deep down it is very distressing. My smile is a topic for another post at some point.


After Regina’s talk I walked up to her as she stood painting at her canvas at one end of the main conference hall. I told her that I admired her and that my lesson from her story was to take action & make positive change using the tools at your disposal. I told her about a man named John who I interviewed last week, a unique former aerospace engineer who uses mathematical modeling to predict how his cancer treatments will affect his body. I told her a little about my story. I started to mention my college portraits and broke down, and Regina hugged me and then gripped my arms and looked into my eyes and talked to me and the words surrounded me and calmed me. She told me to use what I have to help people and to never wait for permission. Regina’s energy was part fairy godmother, part warrior woman, and I felt something shift inside. I promised to email her and join her speaker network.


Later that day, Todd Park, hyperactive firecracker CTO of the USA, took the stage and told us about the government’s health data initiative – releasing health data so that innovators can create new tools to help improve the healthcare system – using words like AWESOMENESS and DATA JUJITSU. How fabulous! I was also very happy to attend a talk by BJ Fogg on ‘facilitating behavior change’ – some of which I have already used in the past two days at work on a project.


Overall, the whole experience completely validated my decision to turn my attention and heart toward healthcare UX more completely, like a plant rotating toward the sun.


Here are some sweet sketchnotes done by Jason Robb of Boston! More on his notes here.

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