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GE Wants To Redesign Your Breast Cancer Experience

The health care company's New York studio invites women to help improve approaches to mammography and breast cancer.

GE wants you to share your mammography and/or breast cancer experience. Luckily, I’ve never had the latter, but like most women, I’ve endured the former, and as any woman can tell you, it ain’t fun.

Here’s what it looks like: Step into a dimly lit room, with a giant, scary piece of equipment, dressed in one of those weird hospital gowns that you can’t really figure out how to tie. Radiation technologist says, "Please stand sideways and put boob on shelf, while draping your armpit over a pointy metal corner of the equipment." Much fussing over correct placement of cupcake. Feet forward, jug pointing toward the wall. When body part is in correct alignment, technician lowers vise–-hard!-–on same, squeezing the poor puppy into something like the mammary version of Flat Stanley. She steps behind a screen, then zaps the little sucker with radiation. Repeat.

That’s the easy part. Next comes waiting a couple days for a breast cancer detector to sound the all-clear.

There must be a better way.

To figure out what that might look like, GE is holding an open studio called For Women By Women, every Saturday in October, from 12 p.m.-5 p.m., at 382 West Broadway, in New York’s Soho, to encourage women to stop by and share their experiences on the topic with a team of designers. Women outside New York can chime in via the company’s Facebook page.

The outreach is part of a larger, $1B commitment to cancer that the company announced last month that includes a $100 million innovation challenge to find and fund ideas to accelerate both the detection of breast cancer and enable more personalized treatment.

The studio is a discreet installation, conceived by the New York interaction design group Sub Rosa, barely discernible but for the GE logo faintly visible on the etched glass doors. Inside is a stylishly appointed space, tricked out with conversational groupings of Steelcase furniture, French press coffee, and artsy renderings of pink-stained cancer cells.

Downstairs is a model of what a "pleasant" version of a mammography room might look like, complete with a choice of soothing visual wall projections (Sierra Club poster, zenlike rocks, rose petals, clouds, grass) and an aromatherapy device spritzing the calming scent of lavender, ostensibly to distract a woman from the experience described above.

During the week, a team of designers will use the space to convene discussions and workshops around the theme, based on research conducted with a group of breast cancer survivors, the feedback from the weekly open houses, and suggestions enlisted from the online audience.

The breast cancer groups, an ethnically and economically diverse group led by IDEO researcher Keren Amit, will be asked, for example, to chart the emotional highs and lows of their journey, to answer a Mad-Libs-like questionnaire about their experience, and to document their thoughts via video cameras, which they’ll take home and use to film everything from artifacts explaining who they are to conversations with friends and family. "We wanted to give them a way to express their insights and emotions in a visually compelling way," Amit says.

Ultimately, GE, which has the world’s largest installed base of mammography equipment, hopes to use the information gathered to improve every woman’s experience with mammography and breast cancer, not only by designing better devices for detection but by partnering with health care organizations that can put their findings to work.

As any woman can attest, there’s lots of room for improvement.

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  • Aussiejo

    "artsy renderings of pink-stained cancer cells" on the studio wall  is meaningless for women who have not been touched by breast cancer in some way and downright confronting and potentially upsetting for those who have.   It reminds me of the artwork I saw in a breast surgeons waiting room, which was an abstract triptych of violent brush strokes in deep reds on a flesh coloured background, which made all the terrified people looking at each other, waiting their turn, in no way confused about who they were seeing and why!!  

  • Gvnmcknz

    Dear Just another one
    Sadly , we males get "the Finger" to check our prostates rectally.
    I promise you that it is both very uncomfortable and deeply humiliating.
    If you check out my links below, you'll see that much more humane
    alternatives exist for women, at least in advanced prototype form.

    If we're lucky we males may get parity in research spending vs. death
    rate some time.

  • Just another one...

    Still think we women should design a complementary device for male inspections, which they must endure with the same frequency....

  • Rouja P

    I get the idea of GE redesigning the mammogram and screening experience. This is similar to their effort in reducing children's anxiety for instance in MRI rooms at hospitals through Adventure Series.
    What I don't understand is how this is relevant to redesigning the breast cancer experience. Redesigning the breast cancer experience is how the result is communicated to the patient, what tools are used to better help the patient with coping, what methods are in place to help equip the patient with information she needs and treatment she desires. In a few words, designing tools that respond to emotioanl and phsycological need of the pateint beyond traditional support groups and on-line resources. Either the title of this article is misleading and promises more than it delivers or the overview of "how" the experience is left out.

  • Linda Bresner, R.T. (R)(M)

    Yes, Ms. Nsb85213, I have had many, many mammograms in addition to performing thousands of them.  For the 3 seconds, literally, that a woman's breast is compressed, it is well worth the DISCOMFORT.  In the world of pain, this does not even come close. 

  • Sharon Anderson

    Fantastic idea, I will definately give my suggestions. As a college professor of Interior Design and a breast cancer survivor, this is a fantastic idea for input!

  • Scotugno

    Grt idea. Hope talks lead to better technology. Tired of doc insisting I have yearly mammo & radiologist telling me virtually useless because of dense breast tissue.

  • Gusie

    This is gross! Companies including GE make chemicals and allow exposure to chemicals that cause cancer. Now they want a nice environment for treatment? Why not stop causing cancer? PREVENT CANCER

  • Nsb85213

    Really Ms. Bresner? Have you ever had a mamogram? It's EXACTLY as described. Except you cannot possible convey the discomfort. We can't pretend for newcomers that it's painless cause it isn't. What needs to happen is that GE (or someone) needs to develop a better method for screening.

  • Linda Bresner, R.T. (R)(M)

    It's descriptions like those set out in your initial portion of this article that are not
    only felonious and incorrect, but, serve only to frighten newcomers contemplating mammography.  The technologist that performs the exam is NOT a radiation technologist, but, rather a radiological technologist.   We do not place a patient's "boob" on a plate and squish it "hard".  It's descriptions like yours that deter a woman from seeking proper treatment.