Almost every Thursday morning since January, I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn, hopping on a bus, and riding across DC to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital for an 8:00am Diabetes Self-Management Education Class. I’m about to start my third round of the three-part class series. I’ll probably sit through rounds four and five too.
Why? It’s not because I love early morning public transportation. It’s not because I get excited about learning and re-learning what a carbohydrate is. It’s not even because I want to hear about diabetic foot wounds one more time.
It’s because of the people who stumble into the room with me at 8:00am, bleary-eyed and complaining about traffic. The ones who want to know if their diabetes is going to go away or if they can still eat cake on their grandkid’s birthday. They’re the ones who are struggling to figure out the different between carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They’re the ones that promise their diabetes educators, and themselves, that they’re going to study harder, understand better, and get healthier. These, ladies and gentleman, are people living with diabetes, and they make my weekly Georgetown trek worth it.
Thanks to these individuals, I’ve come to believe that a patient a day keeps the HFA blues away. (As a side note: that’s the last time I’ll refer to these individuals as ‘patients.’ It sounded better in this rhyme, but we can get into the discomfort around that word in another post.).
I feel this way because, honestly, things feel a bit messy and uncertain at this point in the fellowship. We’re testing a whole bunch of assumptions, starting to build some really low-fidelity prototypes, and trying to figure out the path forward. We are, to use a term from the 2014-2015 class of fellows, in the Land of Confusion. It’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying.
And then Thursday morning rolls around, and I get to be in the room with the humans at the center of our human-centered design. Spending time with the people you’re designing with is a cornerstone of the human-centered design process. It’s one of the ways we foster empathy and a deeper understanding of the particular challenges and opportunities of diabetes management. We’ve written a lot about the ways in which we’ve built empathy through simulation experiences (read about them here and here) but having conversations with people living with diabetes trumps that. Hands down.
When we’re talking to people living with diabetes, we’re getting information straight from the source. What kind of choices are people making about the food they’re buying and eating? What kind of relationship do people have with their care teams, and what do they want to get out of appointments? What kind of tools and technologies are people already using to manage their diabetes in their daily lives?
There’s really no better way to get this information than to ask, listen, and observe. This year’s class has been doing so through surveys, interviews, hands-on activities like card sorts, shadowing clinicians, and through experiences like Thursday mornings at Georgetown. And I, for one, can’t wait to continue.