Lady Business
Self-service health care in the women's restroom

Graduate thesis project, 2011-2012
Advisor: Suguru Ishizaki

Visit the project blog: Self-Service Design

Final thesis presentation poster, April 2012

Poster presented to faculty, December 2011

Access to women’s health services can sometimes be hampered by bothersome realities of institutional administration: impenetrable websites, inconvenient office hours, hellish phone trees, out-of-the-way office locations. An everyday task like picking up birth control pills or getting treated for a common female infection requires coordination between health care providers, pharmacists, and insurers. Any problems with this coordination can make accessing healthcare difficult or impossible. This year, I'm working on a graduate thesis project to increase opportunities for women to self-care. I would like to find out if vending machines in women’s public bathrooms can be a way to facilitate self-service health care.

During the fall semester, I conducted personal interviews with 17 women and 5 health care professionals to discuss their experiences on:

- public restrooms
- gynecologist visits
- birth control methods
- female infections and treatments
- use of over the counter and prescription drugs
- pharmacy experiences
- problems and barriers to women's care
- self-care services and tools

Using their opinions and stories, I will pursue a futurist design approach and attempt to propose a new, user-centered model of care. My approach is not an answer to the current constraints and problems of the medical system, but rather a departure from it entirely, freeing the woman to self diagnose, treat and make informed choices for her care.

Self-care kits
Prototypes will be developed in the upcoming round of user research this spring

Birth control packaging

Women have about 30 years of fertility but are rationed out 28 days of contraception at a time. The packaging and dispensing of the pill, one of the most common methods of contraception, is problematic for women who reach the end of a pack and have a narrow window of time to refill their supply with the approval of their health insurance. Women are discouraged from stocking up on their birth control supply with limits on how many packs they can obtain in one visit to the pharmacy. Studies show, however, that women with larger supplies of pills tend to stay consistent with their medication over time.

Future vending machine

Could the common female vending machine contain products to address a range of feminine health needs? In this sketch, a woman purchases a self-diagnosis kit from the vending machine, determines if she is positive for an infection (such as a UTI or yeast infection) and self-treats with medication from the vending machine. She is able to use simple dipstick or swab testing technology and administer her own course of treatment, without the hassle of making an appointment, visiting a clinic or going to the pharmacy.

The goal of my project is to design a self-service women’s health care delivery method that replaces or augments a need now met only by structured, institutional care. Once a woman has experienced and treated a common infection, or committed to a form of birth control, does she really need to seek medical attention regularly to access preventive services? What barriers to care could be removed if women were permitted to diagnose and treat themselves for certain, everyday needs? My women's-health vending machine will attempt to overcome regulatory, cost, and bureaucratic restrictions that prevent access to medicine and care.