Flip No. 69

Emoticons Make for a More Human Encounter

Symbols open the patient-clinician conversation to more than just symptoms.

By Jonas Milder, Brad Richards, Jeff Rubin, Lynn Shepherd, and Alan Spiro

Developed at Flip the Clinic Lab: Philadelphia

When patients and doctors meet in the clinic, they usually talk about physical symptoms, test results, and medications, and they create plans to make patients healthier. But something’s missing. Even when doctors and patients communicate well, patients are rarely encouraged to share their stories—the emotions and burdens that come along with their illnesses, as well as other factors that impact their health. It’s more than a conversation about their goals; it’s a conversation about how they chose them and what they truly want to achieve.

Playful design prompts could offer a clever way to draw those stories out. To encourage patients to share more about their lives, clinicians could show them a chart of emoticons and ask them to choose the one that represents how they feel. Then the physicians would ask why they feel that way—adding follow-ups like, We talked about a lot of changes for you to take on today. Which ones are making you concerned? How do you feel after you’ve taken your 30-minute walks on Wednesdays? What worries you when you head to bed at night?

The emoticons add an element of play to the visit, lightening the mood, and a patient’s answers combined with the clinician’s follow ups provide real information that can be used to set the agenda for future visits. Understanding the outside factors that affect their patients’ health can be a real boon to communication and treatment. All you need is a smartly-designed opening to kick-start the conversation.