I’m a graphic designer, so I love seeing when good design helps solve problems. I’m also intrigued with learning how average people can take charge of their personal health. These two areas, health and design, might seem rather odd companions, but a recent “TED” talk married them quite nicely.
By the way, if you’re not familiar with “TED” you might want to be. TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. This organization sponsors a video site that highlights the best of their TED talks around the world.
So, the TED talk that inspired this post presents a great idea for something I think is long over due. If you’ve ever been perplexed or even highly annoyed by medical charts, forms and lab reports, it may also strike a chord with you. If you’re like me, you dread when envelopes arrive from the doctor’s office. I immediately wonder if the contents will involve six phone calls to get things straightened out or to just understand what they mean. Anyone who suggests plausible ways to simplify the contents of those envelopes is a hero to me.
REDESIGN THE CHARTS!
Thomas Goetz is a designer, not typical hero material, but what he proposes in this talk is almost too simple. Take a look at the average medical report, chart, invoice or drug description. You usually need a dictionary, medical degree or magnifying glass to even begin to read it. Why is that? How are we suppose to take charge of our health without adequate information? Is it cynical to think they’re purposely written to keep people from understanding them? Or perhaps they’re just designed by the wrong people. Has anyone thought to have a designer do the designing?
Mr. Goetz has and, as it turns out, he’s not the only one. Instead of tiny fonts, confusing markings and unclear formats, he displays forms with meaningful color-coding, simple language and easy-to-follow designs. Some bright designers actually patterned one example after nutrition information on a cereal box. Mr. Goetz suggests that if we have laws that require easy-to-read nutrition labels, why wouldn’t our drug labels be at least as understandable. Now, there’s some health reform I can buy into!
If you’re like me, you’ve probably taken the idea for granted that these forms must be complicated and unreadable. But after listening to this talk, my only question is, “How can we encourage the health care profession to present our information in a way that helps us understand and become better advocates for our own health?”
One other suggestion Mr. Goetz made is to arm yourself with these four simple questions when you have medical tests done:
- Can I have my results?
- What does this mean?
- What are my options?
- What’s next?
Two things I have done in recent years include creating a family medical history chart and being prepared for doctor visits. Yes, the chart took some time. I had to interview my parents about illnesses relatives had endured and how some had passed away. Frankly, I was just tired of doctors asking questions about family history and me not having the answers. Then, I also realized I am my very best advocate for my health. Each year at annual exam time, I write up a list of all questions I have regarding my health. I have learned to not be shy about pulling that list out and running down it when the physician asks if I have any questions.
I’d be interested in knowing what others in the medical profession think about Mr. Goetz’s suggestions. What have been keys for you in being your own health advocate? What do you think about TED talks?