Pediatrician promotes patient-centered healthcare design


For pediatrician Dr. Joyce Lee, “doctor” also means “designer.”

This idea became reality for Lee in 2012, as she worked on managing her two children’s life-threatening food allergies.

Lee found that the paper, black-and-white allergy action plan that she filled out for her kids’ elementary school wasn’t user-friendly, for the school officials or for her children. So what did Lee and her 6-year-old son decide to do about it?

They made a YouTube video.

Since 2012, Lee’s son, “B,” has starred in the voiceover for three YouTube “allergy action plan” videos. The videos cover everything from describing allergy symptoms like hives, to explaining when and how to use the epinephrine autoinjector, or EpiPen. Lee’s son also provides the videos’ crayon illustrations.

Dr. Joyce Lee works with doctors, patients, researchers and others to expand patient-centered collaborations, including those focused on mobile technology. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

In the week after Lee posted her son’s first video, his teacher shared it during morning video announcements with the entire elementary school — more than 700 children and 40 teachers. The video went “a little bit viral,” currently clocking in with more than 1,400 views.

The success of B’s video is just one example of the patient-centered participatory design that Lee champions, as associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical School and associate professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health.

As part of the HealthDesignBy.Us “collaborative innovation network,” Lee works with other doctors, patients, researchers, artists, designers, technologists and entrepreneurs to expand patient involvement and the use of design thinking in health care. Collaborators include Matt Kenyon and John Marshall from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

“As health care professionals, we have forgotten about the most important user in health care, the patient. With healthdesignby.Us, we are engaging patients as partners in the co-design of solutions for healthcare.” Lee says.

This focus on participatory design applies to Lee’s work in research as much as in the clinic as she embarks on patient-centered collaborations focused on mobile technology for patients with type 1 diabetes.

“We are engaging patients as co-creators in our research because they are the experts,” she says. “People think about health and health care as something that’s done to you, but we’re trying to create the notion that it’s something done with you. We all have wisdom to share.”

Q & A

What moment in the classroom stands out as the most memorable?

I don’t think of it as one moment. I think about a shift in my career towards participatory design, and a realization that the maker movement is a great example of how to tap into the expertise of patients and caregivers

What can’t you live without?

Twitter. Please follow me! @joyclee

What is your favorite spot on campus?

The School of Art & Design.

What inspires you?

My father, Dr. H.O. Lee, who passed away two years ago. He was a patient-centered pediatrician, and he’s an inspiration to me as well as the rest of my family.

What are you currently reading?

“Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love,” by Richard Sheridan.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?               

My older sister, Grace. She’s a pediatrician, too.


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