Thinking beyond the Cure: A Case for Human-Centered Design in Cancer Care
Tara Mullaney, Helena Pettersson, Tufve Nyholm, Erik Stolterman


In this paper we explore how human-centered design can expand the solution space surrounding patient experience in healthcare, looking specifically at patient emotional wellbeing. The findings presented here are taken from our ethnographic research of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment; we investigated these individuals’ emotional experiences during their time in the treatment facility. Building upon previous findings within the field of nursing concerned with the prevalence of anxiety in cancer patients and the importance of person-centered care, we implement a human-centered design research approach to investigate the situational triggers of patient anxiety within the radiotherapy treatment experience. Through ‘quick ethnography’, we recognize that the fixation technology used within radiotherapy is a key trigger for anxiety in patients. Application of theory from the field of science and technology studies to our analysis of this technologically-mediated anxiety suggests that the fixation device confines the patient to a passive, disempowered role within its interactions due to it being embedded with the socially scripted ‘sick role’. Summarizing our insights, we find that human-centered design is capable of looking holistically at patient experience to discover new solutions spaces for mediating and preventing situational anxiety, and turning person-centered care within Radiotherapy into a pre-emptive practice instead of a responsive one.

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