Health is not binary


The discussion of health not being a binary variable has been gaining importance over the last years, and rightfully so. Sickness and health are old school. The spectrum of relationships, resources and connections between the two states is what counts. Care and its components need to be shifted away from the closed-eyed view of being defined as sickness and health. Instead, health should by definition reflect the broader scope of the body in relation to the material world.

One school of thought suggests that materials have the ability to exert a deep influence on human perception and therefore become products of human cognition. They can be rough, soft, warm, mean, suffocating, liberating, saving. The success of a medical device or appropriate use of data, such as a blood glucose meter, is hugely influenced by the physical and emotional interaction one has with it.

A blood glucose meter is used up to 10 times a day and needs to be carefully monitored – considerations like appropriate temperature and a charged battery are crucial. The meter takes care of the person using it by providing actionable information that is critical in staying healthy. The interdependence between a person with type 1 Diabetes and the blood sugar meter is an incredibly powerful aspect of personal health.

The data generated from the meter -and transferred to the person whose data is being measured- is communicated as a constellation of isolated numbers on a scale from low to high. No experiential and contextual qualities are being provided. It indirectly focuses on the level of sickness/health and excludes the experiences that relate to it. Engaging with personal medical data in binary ways deepens the impact of the metaphor of sickness and of disABILITY.

The language and metaphor we use to talk about our personal experience is critical in broadening the thinking around creating devices and data for health. According to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson “We not only communicate through metaphors but we act and perceive in accordance with them.” If you think that having diabetes is a tragedy, it will most likely turn into one.

Tools that allow interaction and engagement of personal experience with medical data in expressive ways help transform destructive metaphors into constructive lessons. They will help us develop personalized methods for understanding our bodies, our sensitivities, our powers and our weaknesses. Nowadays, we are more keen to understand new technologies than ourselves. We fear the unknown – especially within our bodies. What we often forget is that the more we know and understand about our personal experience, the less fear we tend to have. Fear prevents action. Action is empowering.




About the author

Sara Krugman is a designer of health care services, products and systems. She is a founder of Line Health Care Design Studio. Driven by her experience living with type 1 diabetes she has a passion for creating personalized and simple health care solutions, from mobile apps to human services. She has worked as a researcher at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City, produced videos for the Brooklyn Department of Health, and was invited to speak at the Diabetes Innovation Summit in 2012 and has co-taught people centered design research. Sara has a BA from Oberlin College and a masters level degree from the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design.