Making a way for patients and doctors to share information

February 4, 2010
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Not too long after Caroline Kelly, a researcher with Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures group, began her observations at the Mayo Clinic, she noticed something: In a doctor’s office, patients had to crane their necks to see information on the computer screen and have a conversation with their doctor.

“The doctor has a desk facing a wall; there’s a computer, maybe a light box, and there’s a couple of guest chairs next to it, facing out. You have this linear arrangement of elements, including the information,” said Kelly.

“As we know, as medical records become digitized and more predominant in these encounters, there is a disconnect between the information and the people having the conversation.”

That was in 2005. Out of that research, Steelcase launched its health care furniture division, Nurture by Steelcase, which takes a holistic approach to health care environments.

One of Nurture’s goals is to integrate technology and shared access to information into the health care setting. The rise of electronic medical records increases the need for technologically infused solutions.

“Right now (health care settings) are designed for the providers to be able to access and understand the information. But what is it going to look like when electronic records are designed for the patients to understand what they’re looking at,” said Kelly.

“We’re at an exciting time with this interface.”

Kelly said an increasing number of physicians are looking to engage the patient in their treatment plan.

“They are particularly interested in shared decision making … instead of the doctor saying, ‘Take two of these and call me in the morning,’” she said. “It’s much more about a partnership and finding the right fit for a patient so they can successfully respond to their condition.”

Opus is one example of how Nurture tackles the challenge of embedding such solutions into its furniture design. The NeoCon 2006 Gold Award winner is a line of casegoods that can be configured in many ways. One configuration includes a work surface with a protruding semi-circle. That extension allows for patients and doctors to sit around the semi-circle and go over information on a television or computer screen in front of them.

“I think Steelcase in general is doing a good job of understanding ubiquity: computers and information everywhere and embedded in the environment, as opposed to an element plunked down into an environment.

“One of the reasons why we didn’t just stick a big screen on the wall … is because there needs to be a sense of a shared workspace, and a way to share not just the digital information, but the paper information, as well.

“What we see in our observations is that patients are coming in with printouts of what they’ve Googled on their conditions. Right now, they’re bringing in papers and spreading them out and saying, ‘Doctor, explain this to me.’ Maybe someday they’ll be bringing in laptops or say, ‘Give this (keyboard and mouse) to me; let’s open up a browser and look something up together.”

Since Nurture’s launch in 2006, it has become the second most recognized brand within the health care solutions industry. A local example can be found in all 21 treatment stations at the Cancer Center at Metro Health Village.

The new Metro Heart and Vascular in Greenville is also equipped with Nurture furniture.

 -Jake Himmelspach

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