Gender Lab

User insights promote gender equality in the ER

In recent years, the connection between innovation and gender has attracted increasing attention among policymakers, researchers and business leaders around the globe. Often regarded as one of the world’s most gender-equal countries, Sweden offers many fine examples of how businesses can gain a competitive edge by integrating gender perspective into their innovation goals.

Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital is one of the largest, most well respected university hospitals in Europe. Staff members pride themselves on being patient-focused, innovative and personal in providing care, and recognize that these standards require a proactive approach. But recently Karolinska shared some puzzling statistics that they wanted help interpreting. The statistics showed that at the hospital, women waited longer than men for medical treatment and also spent more time in the emergency room. Karolinska’s doctors and nurses didn’t feel that medical reasons entirely accounted for the time discrepancies. With the help of Veryday this project focused on finding possible behavioral explanations for the discrepancies. We applied people-driven research methods to identify the tacit knowledge and latent needs of the user.

Clashing expectations create stressful situations
In Sweden, waiting in line is normally a very orderly affair characterized by a first-come, first-served system where one’s place is clear. By contrast, in an ER the waiting system is often non-linear and unpredictable. Caregivers must prioritize acute or life-threatening cases; various departments each have their own queues; and order of patient care does not necessarily correspond to order of arrival. These unique criteria are not communicated to patients who are waiting, which may make the system seem unfair at first glance. This in combination with people feeling ill or in pain contributes to a stressful environment that may in turn exacerbate certain character traits. By conducting in-depth research in the ER environment, the Veryday team identified a set of traits that may influence how long any particular patient waits.

Healthcare providers tend to prioritize active patients. For example, demanding patients that approach the counter often are attended to more quickly than passive patients who quietly wait for their turn. Patients who give short explanations of their problems are likely to be helped more rapidly than those that give long explanations. In their research, the designers additionally found that patients who are active and give short explanations more often tend to be male, while patients who are more passive and give longer explanations more often tend to be female.

This study is “intriguing” because is tackles from a fresh perspective a significant public health menace-gender disparity in healthcare. The true root causes of these disparities are not firmly established but understanding the role that behavioral characteristics play in this field may ultimately help clinicians better appreciate the genesis of their biases.

Dr. Yves Duroseau, Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York

Preventing confusion and promoting empathy
The designers recognized how problematic it is to generalize despite the tendencies identified, so they recommended a solution based on character traits rather than gender (with the belief that it would still have a positive impact on gender equality). The purpose of this study was to examine behavioral explanations and use these important insights to make powerful arguments for driving change. The envisioned scenario developed by Veryday strives to suppress active patients by increasing their empathic awareness of other patients.

By clearing up confusion regarding the queue system, being open about priority situations like incoming ambulances, and reminding each patient that being rushed into the ER is actually not a good sign, the hope is to give each patient waiting in the ER greater empathy for others and a better understanding of the bigger picture.