Visualizing Our Health History

“At the hospital, I kept getting asked the same question over and over again – our systems aren’t capturing information in a way that takes the burden off patients,” said Katie. “Our tech systems need to be considerate. The whole system and how it’s designed to help people work together; it needs to be considerate.”

Katie McCurdy is a user experience designer and researcher focusing on healthcare, drawing from her experiences as an autoimmune patient. “As a longtime patient and patient advocate, I have a deep understanding of the problems patients face, and through my personal experiences and past research and design projects, I have developed a strong sense of the obstacles providers are facing.”

Years ago, aiming to make sense of a set of strange autoimmune symptoms, Katie created a visual timeline of her experiences to help express herself during limited time with a new clinician. “You have such a loss of control and confusion and anxiety when things are happening with your body and no one can figure out why. That doctor visit, I realized that bringing my story in this very visual format helped me take control of the conversation; it helped me remember what I wanted to say and structure the conversation in a more coherent way. I used this [visual] format in a number of subsequent visits and it was a helpful way to tell my story and very helpful for the doctor as well."

She added, ”multiple doctors have told me ’that’s the coolest thing ever.’”

Since that time Katie has created Pictal, which is a set of worksheets that patients can use to create a health history timeline and show how symptoms look and feel on their body. "As a patient, I have extensively used timelines to efficiently talk about my own health history, and I have also used drawings on body shapes to show my symptoms. I decided to create worksheets that would help other patients could use to do the same." People can download the worksheets and use provided visuals, or create their own interpretations, to map the symptoms they are feeling.  

“It’s one thing for a doctor to hear someone tell them what’s wrong. Another thing to see exactly what they are feeling.”

"I have a vision of better collaboration and mutual understanding. Patients have so much information! And doctors want to know that information. The problem is that many patients don’t have the tools or time to tell their story efficiently and coherently.” Working within a system that often whittles patient/clinician interacts down to a single-digit number of minutes, the ability to streamline collaboration is more important than ever. Through this tool, patients of varying health literacy levels can share their experiences and symptoms, helping bring their clinicians up top speed quickly during a visit, ultimately leading to more productive discussions.

To learn more about Katie's work, you can visit her website, or follow her on Twitter @katiemccurdy. To download the Pictal worksheets, click here.  

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