Treating Experience, Not Disease
“A doctor does not just diagnose a disease, that is the least, he has to do that, that is the least of what he does. He is also concerned with the impact of the disease on the person, their experience of it, and how they may adapt or otherwise how they may respond to treatment. So, there is quite a strong, individual story to be said of everyone with a disease or an injury.”
Oliver Sacks, in a Radiolab interview, “Happy Birthday, Good Dr. Sacks” (7/9/2013)
The idea that interaction and experience design can play a role in larger social arenas has been building steam for a few years now. For anyone trying to build a case for careful design of experience in healthcare services, Sacks provides a perfect soundbite in this Radiolab interview.
As we learn in the interview, Sacks is known for his use of narrative to describe his cases, an unfavourable approach in the 1960s among a medical community that preferred the reliability of numbers and laboratory tests. He has faced criticism that his literary talents outweigh his effectiveness as a doctor. But I think it’s thinkers like Sacks, those who are comfortable standing in the doorway between multiple disciplines, that are going to be vital for the much needed changes in social institutions like healthcare, government, or education.
Sack’s critics are concerned about the quality of his medical research. By standing in between medicine and storytelling, Sacks dilutes the effectiveness of his medical practice. A parallel criticism often heard in design thinking discussions is that people overstep their bounds when they cross disciplines; what qualifications do designers have to tell healthcare professionals, politicians, or executives how to run their operations?
I think these criticisms are short-sighted and kind of miss the point. Whether we recognize it or not, all of our efforts are connected. I’m not just a designer, I’m a person engaged in your world, just as you are with mine. Those who are nimble enough to view that shared world through multiple lenses simultaneously will be able to make connections and leaps of innovation that others don’t even see.