UX — 2019
Designer and researcher
Opening communication and awareness about the impacts of chronic pain
Peek is an online platform that focuses on spreading the awareness of the mental, emotional, and social impacts of chronic pain. Peek features resources that are centered around communication and understanding that are helpful for both a chronic pain patient and their family and friends.
I was interested in exploring the communication and visualization of chronic pain between patients, doctors, and family/friends looking at what were the reasons for poor communication.
Following my research, I decided to focus on the mental and social aspects patients experience and how patient self-awareness and family education could improve open communication.
I developed the following question:
How might I bring awareness to the mental and emotional impact of chronic pain to improve patient self-awareness and open communication with family, friends, and the public?
Research + Process
I was interested in understanding the difficulties chronic pain patients have experienced communicating with their doctors, family, and friends. I performed 7 in-depth interviews, as well as utilized online patient forums as a way to gain an understanding of the patient experience and perspective. In addition, I researched the various pain form structures (scale, word-based, etc) and digital and physical resources available to help patients document their pain symptoms over time.
KEY FOCUS AREAS
How does communication differ for a patient with chronic pain when speaking with a medical professional vs a family member vs a friend?
What are the current strategies patients with chronic pain use to communicate how their pain feels to medical professionals, family, and friends?
What are their current perceptions of how chronic pain is perceived in society and how does that impact their willingness to talk about their chronic pain experiences?
Based on the research I performed, I developed key insights which informed my design principles.
I developed 10 main insights. The following 6 insights relate most to my design outcome, Peek.
1. PERCEPTION OF HELP
Patients do not share with their family and friends because they do not think they can help them with the physical symptoms.
2. PRIVATE EXPERIENCE
Patients see their pain as a private experience because no one can see it resulting in lack of communication with others.
Patient’s social life is most affected, which leads to isolation over the long term.
4. AWARENESS OF ISOLATION
Patients are aware they have isolated themselves, however they find it easier to avoid then explain.
5. PHYSICAL VS MENTAL FOCUS
Patients focus on solutions for physical symptoms because they experience them more directly and frequently.
6. MENTAL FATIGUE + UNDERSTANDING
Patients find dealing with daily pain as mentally exhausting. They do not believe their family/friends can understand or believe the degree of mental exhaustion they experience.
I decided to focus on fostering communication between the patient and their family/friends. This was based on two main factors:
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
Patients are less likely to talk about their chronic pain with family and friends. Patients may actively avoid social situations where their chronic pain will be an issue.
SELF ISOLATION TENDENCY
Lack of communication and avoidance leads to patients isolating themselves from others, which affects personal relationships and potential support systems that could benefit the patient.
Chronic pain patients tend to focus on addressing the physical symptoms because they are impacted by these more directly. However the mental, emotional, and social impacts of living with chronic pain contributes to the physical symptoms influencing how the patient is able to manage the physical symptoms of their condition.
While family and friends can not impact how a patient manages the physical symptoms, there is an opportunity to use family and friends as a resource to provide mental and emotional support for the patient. By improving open communication, where the patient and family/friends are aligned and educated on one another’s perspectives, experiences, and feelings early on there is opportunity to prevent the isolation that is common among patients with chronic pain.
1. FOSTER ENGAGEMENT
Provide resources for patients and family to engage in discussion.
2. ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING
Encourage patients and family to observe their actions and thoughts from a critical lens.
3. ENCOURAGE SELF-REFLECTION
Encourage patients and family to reflect on their actions and thoughts to promote thoughtful communication.
4. FLEXIBILITY IN COMMUNICATION
Provide the patient with multiple methods of communication for personalized expression.
I explored 3 main concepts: (1) Connected Educational Resource, (2) Challenging Negative Thoughts, and (3) Expression Toolkits.
With the core problem being the lack of open communication between patients and family members, I moved forward with the expression toolkits + public awareness campaign. I further refined the concept and explored low-cost solutions that would make it available to a wide range of users.
Peek is an online platform that focuses on spreading the awareness of the mental, emotional, and social impacts of chronic pain. Peek features resources that are centered around communication and understanding that are helpful for both the patient of chronic pain and their family and friends. There are two main elements to Peek:
The Peek website features free resources, information, and shared stories that is accessible without signing up.
PEEK PLATFORM + NETWORK
The Peek platform is a resource to help chronic pain patients and the family/friends record their thoughts, build a collection of resources, and share with each other.
The website is the entry point to the Peek platform and network. Users are able to explore free resources, information, and stories about chronic pain. All the resources are free to download without signing up for the Peek platform making it accessible to users who do not want to utilize the Peek platform + network element.
LEARNING TO BUILD UNDERSTANDING
Peek features articles that revolve around chronic pain, the mental effects, and ideas/perspectives about chronic pain. This is the first step in building understanding and opening communication around the topic of chronic pain.
RESOURCES TO OPEN COMMUNICATION
Peek features free downloadable resources that center around facilitating open communication, self-reflection, and promoting awareness.
Inspired by design research methods, these resources focus on bringing up questions and acting as a starting point to conversations through individual or group exercises.
The following are examples of resources that would be available.
AWARENESS BY SHARING EXPERIENCES
Users are able to read thoughts and stories from the Peek network. These stories are shared voluntary by Peek users. The purpose of these stories is to spread awareness, build empathy, and help people see the different ways that chronic pain affects others.
Peek Platform + Network
Within the website, users (patients, family, and friends) are able to sign up for the free Peek platform + network. The Peek platform is a resource to express your thoughts and feelings and create a collection of them. The user and their family/friends can connect over the Peek network to share resources and thoughts with each other.
TIMELINE OF THOUGHTS
Using the Peek platform, users can record their thoughts over time to help deal with the mental/emotional impacts of living with chronic pain.
This collection becomes a resource that can assist with communication about their experiences with chronic pain. For example, they can show their doctor a video, which may convey their experience better because it shows their body language and expression in that moment as oppose to recalling it though dialogue.
MULTIPLE METHODS OF EXPRESSION
Users have the option to write, draw, video or audio record their thoughts. Many chronic pain patients have difficulty describing their pain when recalling it to others. By providing different mediums, it allows the user to select the one that best represents the thought they are trying to express in that moment.
For example, some may prefer audio recording because it allows the tone/emotion within the voice to be heard at that moment.
In addition, the user is able to print out blank templates or started digital thoughts, such as photo of themself, then upload it to their Peek thought timeline. This option allows users who may feel more comfortable expressing using pen and paper to still utilize the collection and sharing element of the Peek platform.
SHARING TO OPEN COMMUNICATION
The user is able to share resources and their thoughts with their family and friends who are part of the Peek network, as well as vice versa.
Having the ability to share thoughts and resources seamlessly, the patient and their family/friends can start understanding each other’s perspectives and feelings to build open communication channels between each other.
EXPLORING THE ROOT OF THE THOUGHT
The user is able to further explore their thoughts through additional questioning.
Based on the design method of “The Five Whys”, the process would start with a significant part of the thought. It would prompt the user with a question related to that statement. From there it would use the answers they give to continue to think through the thought. It ends with an overview and a prompt to think of an alternative way to think about the original statement.
This project was an exercise in developing a complete project from topic selection, in-depth research, and development of a design outcome. With my interest in design, communication, and healthcare, I found the experience of working in the realm of health and the facilitation of communication very interesting. For next steps, I am planning on speaking with pain specialists and chronic pain patients on the viability of the high-level concept.