A Human-Centered Approach to the End of Life Experience

Death and dying are topics that currently loom large on the cultural landscape. Whether taking the form of best sellers, op-eds, film, TEDTalks or café conversations, there is a surging movement to confront the taboo subject, in an effort to restore community, assure autonomy, and ease suffering for all.

End Well is a symposium bringing together leading minds in health care, design and technology and aims to inspire and realize a more fully human-centered approach to the end of life experience. The debut of this SF-based platform on December 7, 2017, at the Intercontinental San Francisco, is a full-day symposium scaled for easy interaction and dedicated to instigating holistic, human-centered transformation.

With so many aspects of health care in disarray, and massive numbers of baby boomers on the edge of “elderhood,” there is a system-wide need to design a better ending than the current status quo. Improved communication, sensory aware environments, spiritual facilitation and sustainable health policies are among the many humanistic avenues that speak to the rising desire to live one’s values fully until the end. Caregiving, serving the needs of underserved communities, medical discoveries—the scope of need is broad and ready for design professions and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

End Well is being led by Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, an internal medicine physician and founder of the Ungerleider Palliative Care Education Fund, underwritten by the CPMC Foundation. “We believe that the most effective means of generating change in this environment is to bring together a variety of skills and disciplines in an exchange of ideas, success stories, vulnerabilities and solution processes to accelerate the creation of actionable transformation,” says Dr. Ungerleider.

“We are not doing this as a conversational exercise,” she adds. “We intend to initiate change as a result of bringing together the health care, tech, policy, entrepreneur and design communities. We are under no illusion that any one discipline holds the solution or that there is any one answer for everyone. This is a highly personal, deeply emotional and important part of life that End Well does not approach lightly. We do, however, strive to shine light into its shadows as a means of helping everyone through the experience, however and whenever they become involved.”

Design presenters include architect and interior designer, Clive Wilkinson, whose recent work for the AbilityLab in Chicago is a benchmark example of the humanistic rethinking of a healthcare experience. As the first “translational research” rehab facility, the project radically reimagines how clinical and therapeutic environments can foster cross-functional learning and enable clinicians, scientists, innovators and technologists to collaboratively apply research in real time to real people.

Ivor Williams, also on the day’s roster, is Senior Designer at the Helix Centre, a unique design studio embedded in a large public hospital in Central London. With a team comprised of designers, clinicians and academics, Helix uses human-centered design methodologies to rapidly dissect problems, envision opportunities and prototype solutions. “To live well and experience a good death we need good design,” says Williams.

The symposium is a daylong event of presentations, performance and conversations. Voices taking the stage include BJ Miller, MD (hospice and palliative care specialist at UCSF); Lucy Kalanathi, MD (patient experience advocate, widow of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, the author of When Breath Becomes Air); Frank Ostaseski (co-founder, Zen Hospice Project and founder, Metta Institute); Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest); Michael Hebb (founder, Death Over Dinner); Tracy Gaudet (Executive Director of the Veteran’s Administration’s national office of patient-centered care and cultural transformation); Mark Ganz (CEO, Cambia Health) and many others. The event, scaled for organic interaction, will be MC’d by Courtney Martin, a contributor to On Being, Aspen Ideas, TED and other thought leadership platforms.

The day will be followed by an invitational design workshop conducted by the Ignite Team at Salesforce, led by Bruce Jang and his team of designers, researchers and strategists. End Well options also include a pre-event,Death Over Dinner, an evening of conversation and dinner with End Well speakers and special guests to discuss the varied complexities of cultural, clinical and personal relationships that span dying and living.

Please visit the End Well website, for more details and to register for this groundbreaking event.