Design Alumna Takes Part in a Patient Revolution


Maggie Breslin, a Master’s of Design alumna from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design (MDes ’04), currently serves as Director of The Patient Revolution, a non-profit organization with two goals; to call attention to the ways in which industrial healthcare fails people and to advocate for and help build a healthcare that is careful and kind. The Patient Revolution is committed to developing tools, programs and resources that help patients, caregivers and clinicians take tangible steps towards this kind of healthcare. They stand ready to serve as advocates, collaborators or facilitators with people and communities interested in building that future together.

“Careful and kind care is care that strives to see patients as individual people and that unites patients, caregivers and clinicians as partners working through health situations to find the best course of action for this person, at this moment in time,” said Breslin, who started her role as Director in 2014. The things that we work on – creating tools, developing programs, partnering on projects – are all fundamentally about supporting relationships and conversations because those are the ways that care happens.”

“Some of our projects involve developing programs and tools for patients; spaces and events where they can get information and start the process of thinking, feeling, and talking about what may be important to them.

“We modeled one series of events on old school Tupperware parties and have gathered women to talk about breast cancer screening and cardiovascular health. Another project involves working with front line care team staff to explore ways in which their work flows, decision making, communication, and technology can help them be more responsive to patient need. And we’re exploring the idea of opening our own clinic.

A breast cancer screening shared decision tool.

“It is all very much a work in progress and we know there are no quick fixes.”

Before The Patient Revolution, Breslin started her career in the healthcare industry when she was hired by the Mayo Clinic as the first designer/researcher in their SPARC (See, Plan, Act, Refine, Communicate) Innovation Program, which later became their Center for Innovation. The SPARC program used design principles to inspire novel thinking about health care delivery.

“Working there was a little like being a kid in a candy store,” said Breslin. “Care happened all around me and I was allowed to watch. I saw it when it was boring and mundane and when it was life-changing and heart-breaking. It was at Mayo Clinic that I learned what it means to make in this kind of environment and in response to these kinds of problems; how it requires not only traditional making skills but relationships, flexibility, humility, and patience.

“I developed a real appreciation for how different disciplines can come together and I met most of the people that I still collaborate with today. At the same time, I also learned a lot about the tensions inherent in healthcare of doing what is best for people and doing what is best for a business.” 

Cards that help descibe barriers that patients can encounter.

For Breslin, designers and the approaches and methods that they bring to the table are incredibly useful in healthcare because healthcare is a “messy world.”

“Research helps understand the complexity,” added Breslin. “Making and prototyping are ways to bring a different vision to reality. But it matters a lot what the goal of the effort is and I worry that design in healthcare is being used to advance industrial and business interests, not human interests. It can often feel like the goal is to get patients to do what we want them to do instead of figuring out how to make our organizations and care processes responsive to the situations patients find themselves in. “ 

Breslin also relies on her education when facing the unique challenges she faces in the healthcare industry.

“In grad school, I was fascinated by the tension between theory and practice and I am very lucky to get to live in that tension all the time now,” said Breslin. “Trying to figure out how to embody these big ideas in the reality of caring for people is hard, messy, rewarding work. I am also very lucky to continue to get to collaborate with Ian Hargraves who was in my grad school class and then went on to get his PhD at CMU. He works with a research team I collaborate with at Mayo Clinic and he’s such a thoughtful person. 

“The integration of theory and practice at CMU is what set it apart for me and what I hope it continues to do today,” continued Breslin. “It isn’t enough to simply learn how to advance the goals of others by embodying them in products or services. The time spent debating with my classmates helped me develop a point of view, learn to take critique, and learn how to make an argument.

“Those are the foundation of my practice.”

Learn more about The Patient Revolution >>

Date Published: 
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
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