By Nikolai Kirienko, UC Berkeley
As a patient at UCSF, I’ve witnessed bedside technology evolve at a rapid pace over the years. From nurses capturing vitals on tablet computers, to patients escaping through 50-inch HDTVs, high tech surfaces are helping us connect and accomplish our age-old goals in very modern ways.
Yet, during a recent admission, the interactive surface that most captured my attention was an upgrade to a decidedly low power device: the patient whiteboard.
As strange as it may sound, this was the most engaging piece of technology in my hospital room: it was a collaborative medium for asking questions, coordinating specialist teams, mapping out treatment options and otherwise sequencing the series of events leading up to the most important day of my hospitalization: my planned date of discharge.
Dr. Niraj Sehgal, a product champion for the newly revamped whiteboards recently wrote in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, “Patient whiteboards can serve as a communication tool between hospital providers and as a mechanism to engage patients in their care, but little is known about their current use or best practices.”
In my experience, I witnessed the whiteboards performing the function of ‘random access memory’ within our group collaboration process; a kind of short-term, shared memory vital to executing a task. It made sure that everyone was looking at the same information at the same time, much as we hope to accomplish with the design of Crohnology.MD.
So, perhaps the wisdom the whiteboards can offer us as designers of personal health care applications is an illustration of participatory medicine as best defined by patient engagement, which does not always require the latest in technology to be effective. For example, in preliminary user tests we've found that SMS can engage as well as or even better than a native app for capturing certain ODLs.
Ultimately, the whiteboards at UCSF, and the culture of patient participation they represent, are steadily paving the way for all the advanced bedside collaboration technologies destined to take their place. And even if people and their processes evolve slowly, when it comes to putting the patient in the driver’s seat, sometimes the right technology is just a surface to write on. In the meantime, I'll be snapping pictures on my smartphone- until we finish a smarter dashboard.