Open-source healthcare design "could make the world a better place"

Designers could revolutionise the health sector by helping patients take greater control of treatments, according to the curator of an exhibition at this year's Dutch Design Week.

In a video interview with Dezeen as part of our Good Design for a Bad World project, curator Sabine Wildevuur described healthcare as "a closed system" in which patients have little power.

"At the moment, it's very much dependent on the decisions of healthcare professionals, organisations and institutes," said Wildevuur.

Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health exhibition, and heads up the Creative Care Lab at Waag Society, a Dutch organisation focused on art, science and technology, where she works with artists and designers to develop speculative and practical solutions for healthcare.

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
Sabine Wildevuur believes that open design can transform healthcare. Photograph is copyright Dezeen

In the interview, she criticises the focus on patents in healthcare design.

"Normally, you make something, you close it down, and you sell it. Open design, on the other hand, is all about sharing your knowledge of design with others," she says.

"If we share this kind of design, we could make the world a better place."

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
The Embassy of Health featured installations that demonstrated how design can empower patients. Photograph is copyright Waag Society

Wildevuur sought to show this at the Embassy of Health, which was open to the public throughout Dutch Design Week last month – alongside other "embassies" themed around topics like intimacy and food.

"The projects at the Embassy of Health are examples of people taking control and taking matters in their own hands," says Wildevuur.

The exhibition explored design-led solutions to problems such as inequality in access to healthcare and the global increase in chronic diseases.

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
Frank Kolkman's Open Surgery project is a DIY alternative to expensive robots used in surgery. Photograph is copyright Cees Beuzekom

In the interview, Wildevuur highlights a conceptual project called Open Surgery by designer Frank Kolkman.

Based on the highly expensive Da Vinci robot arm used in keyhole surgery, Kolkman's open-source machine is designed to enable people to perform operations on themselves using a Playstation controller and other affordable materials.

For Wildevuur, Open Surgery demonstrates the potential for designers to disrupt a rigid system in which healthcare equipment providers develop expensive designs and then patent them, driving up the cost of treatments.

"It's about questioning the existing healthcare system," says Wildevuur.

"In the US, and increasingly in some parts of Europe, healthcare has become so expensive that people cannot afford surgery. So they look online, trying to find ways to do surgery themselves."

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
Open Surgery "is about questioning the existing healthcare system," says Wildevuur. Photograph is copyright Frank Kolkman

Kolkman was inspired to create the robot after discovering a large number of DIY surgery videos on YouTube, in which people attempt operations normally carried out by professionals and share footage of the process.

"He's talking with policy makers and healthcare organisations to start to look differently at healthcare," says Wildevuur.

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
Outrospectre, a virtual reality installation by Kolkman, was also exhibited at the Embassy of Health. Photograph is copyright Cees Beuzekom

Wildevuur also spotlights another of Kolkman's conceptual projects, named Outrospectre, which is designed to tackle "death anxiety" among terminally ill hospital patients.

Kolkman sought to design a virtual reality installation that would simulate an out of body experience, after discovering that people who have had such experiences felt less afraid of death.

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
The installation simulates an out of body experience. Photograph is copyright Waag Society

Users stand directly in front of a robotic head, which is fitted with a 3D camera in each eye. The head is mounted on a vertical trolley track, along which it slides forwards and backwards.

The cameras transmit a live video stream to the user, who watches through a VR headset as the camera glides away from their body.

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
Users see themselves from the perspective of a robotic head fitted with 3D cameras, which slides away from the them on a track. Photograph is copyright Waag Society

The robot mimics head movements in real time, allowing the user to look around and observe their environment. It also has "ears" – two microphones positioned at opposite sides of its face that intensify the feeling of displacement.

"With this project, Frank Kolkman tries to diminish the fear of death," Wildevuur claims.

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
IV-Walk by Alissa Rees is an alternative to traditional intravenous poles used in hospitals. Photograph is copyright Alissa Rees

Also on show at the Embassy of Health was the IV-Walk by designer Alissa Rees. The project is a new take on intravenous poles, which are metal stands used in hospitals to support bags of fluid.

"This is an example that comes straight from the heart," Wildevuur says. "Alissa was diagnosed with got leukaemia at the age of 19, and was suddenly a patient attached to an IV pole."

Sabine Wildevuur curated the Embassy of Health at Dutch Design Week 2017.
The features of a normal intravenous pole are stored inside a backpack to be worn by patients, allowing for increased mobility. Photograph is copyright Alissa Rees

"She came up with an idea to make a kind of backpack, with all the stuff that is normally on the IV pole inside the bag. Which means that its much easier to walk around, which also improves your recovery."

Wildevuur claims that the Embassy of Health "has resonated with a lot of people, whether patients, healthcare professionals, or big commercial organisations."

"The role of designers is to start conversations with healthcare professionals, patients and hospitals, to really change this world," she concludes.

During Dutch Design Week, Dezeen hosted a series of talks which discussed how design can help tackle major problems the world is facing.

We have published livestream movies of the talks, which addressed pollution, refugees, politics, terrorism and climate change. An edited version of the talk on climate change has been published, with more to follow soon.