Tangible care: Design as a Vehicle for Materializing Shifting Relationships between Clinicians and Patients

A published article by Kathrina Dankl and Canan Akoglu


Historic and Contemporary Means for Virtuoso Listening 

What are the concrete items that structure or enable the interaction and relationship between clinicians and patients? Looking back, we find an iconic object that is formative for this interaction: the stethoscope. Invented by French physician René Laennec in 1816, the stethoscope marked a major medical step forward and the transition from a doctor who relied almost entirely on patient self-description in his diagnosis to an expert whose diagnosis was based on independent empiric support. With the use of the stethoscope in the nineteenth century, doctors became “virtuoso listeners, they could hear the body in a way that was inaccessible to laymen.”1 A current strategy for a more person-centered care approach is shared decision making (SDM) and integrating deci- sion aids in the conversation about therapy choices. This aims at a more egalitarian relationship between clinicians and patients by bringing together patients’ preferences and clinicians’ medical expertise. The goal is a fertile ground for making joint therapy decisions and an empowerment of patients and relatives. 

In this article, we focus on the question of to what extent SDM and decision aids concretize and broaden the discourse around the skills required of today’s “modern” physicians and “modern” patients and what role designers and design researchers can embrace in shaping these shifting relationships. The focus of this article is a design project in the Danish health care system—a collaboration between a design university and a center for SDM. The method is the analysis of critical discussions among stakeholders that shaped the design of the decision aid. The main contribution of this research is that design in health and social care further expands the definition of “product” in a design process. In this case, the product is a reorganization of the relationship between patients and clinicians, that is, a social relationship. Design in health and social care is exemplary of designers’ capacity to act beyond the well-established materialization competencies of the discipline and work on a systemic level. 

Design Issues Volume 37, Issue 2

© 2021 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Link to the full article: https://doi.org/10.1162/desi_a_00632 

Contact: Canan Akoglu, Associate Professor, PhD, Head of Design for People ca@dskd.dk 

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