The IDEO Design Challenge

The Design Track for ePatients at the Stanford Medicine X Conference this year was an experience that demonstrated the value of teamwork. Where else could you see a cardiac surgeon, a researcher, GP doctors and a venture capitalist working with a patient to find answers to a health problem posed by a patient?

This is the way the challenge worked: two months before the MedX Conference the patients involved submitted problem statements to Dennis Boyle and his team at IDEO; participants got a shorter list back with requests for clarification and also received background links about design thinking and a copy of the book Creative Confidence Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.

To start our day at IDEO we had a tour. The company has done amazing work in design and their workplace is full of people doing work that they love. Then we broke up into teams and I presented my ‘How Might We’ problem statements. We had a terrific facilitator, Tanya Rinderknecht, who nudged us back on track when we started to get too ambitious.

In design thinking there is much consultation and questioning with the users of the potential solution. The statement the team chose to work on was “How might we convey new symptoms to Doctors and be believed. I find that when symptoms don’t fit the mold, it’s back to the same round of doctors for the same verdicts and no progress.”

Through the intensive questioning, brainstorming, conceptualizing and prototyping the whole team kept on moving ahead and making steady progress. What we came up with as a solution is a patient toolbox. All five patients involved at IDEO presented what they learned as well as describing their team’s prototypes on the main stage at MedX.

I was lucky enough to have one of our ‘Tools’ to demonstrate. Here are the signs we made to communicate with doctors in certain situations. (I would want to have a good relationship with a doctor before I started to use these unexpectedly) Another use would be for doctors to adopt some of them and give them to patients for use in their appointments. With these signs health literacy is not an issue.

Here they are with some short explanations:


Studies show that patients are usually interrupted by the doctor within 11 to 18 seconds. This is a “Please don’t interrupt me so soon”


Yes, I am interested in that treatment but what about side effects?


“But doctor I’m in pain. Can you help me?”


“Please slow down. I need to understand.”


“Will this affect my sex life?” (a difficult topic for some doctors to raise)


Yes, I’ll try this for now, but what about the future?”


“Doctor. You’ve got it. Thank you.”


“Thumbs up on a great job.” (Note: This can be turned upside down when appropriate)

You can feel free to copy these pictures for your own signs, or use them as the prototypes that they are. I’ve already had a suggestion for another sign: A picture of a brain and the words “I have a brain.” Feel free to add more sign ideas in the comments.

Dennis Boyle of IDEO graciously gave the go ahead to post these signs. I will have more posts about IDEO. Our team produced three more tools and the conclusions I reached based on this experience were illuminating.

Anet has had rheumatoid arthritis for 30 years. She spent the last 20 working full time in market research. Now health advocacy and the quality of life with chronic illness are major interests. “It’s great to have time to blog and tweet and go out for lunch”. Follow her on Twitter @anetto

  • More from Here’s Your Gold Watch – Rheutired