Urvi Gupta ’14 is finishing up her years at Stanford this spring, earning a degree and putting on a conference – and it is hard to say which she is most excited about.
The conference was the culmination of a three-month long initiative called Disrupt Diabetes, a unique, patient-forward innovation challenge, said Gupta, who is earning a B.S. in human biology with a concentration in behavioral science and health design. The challenge included 12 teams of five; with speakers, judges, mentors and volunteers, about 80 people attended the conference.
The challenge was designed to put diabetes patients in the driver’s seat of innovation. Twelve patients were partnered with designers and students in March, and these teams spent nine weeks uncovering compelling needs rooted in the patient’s day-to-day experiences.
From there, teams conducted user research, interviewing diverse stakeholders and doing landscape and literature reviews. On May 20, the teams met at the Stanford School of Medicine for a design sprint, where they were joined by a medical expert and thought leader. The overarching goal was to leverage diverse perspectives to generate impactful and viable solutions to patient needs. At the end of the conference, each team pitched its need and solution to a panel of judges, who selected three winning projects to receive a monetary award and mentorship to continue work after the challenge.
Gupta was ecstatic about the results. “Over the past few years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to delve into the health care space from a variety of angles,” she said, “but one of the primary perspectives has been from the lens of innovation and specifically leveraging design thinking (a problem solving framework) as a tool to create change within health care.
“Through a variety of projects, I’ve become extremely passionate about elevating the patient voice, a point of view very rarely heard from, despite the fact that they should be at the center of every conversation. In the spaces that I’ve been a part of, there has been a huge push to begin including patients in these processes, whether innovation at the systems level or placing a bigger emphasis on their experiences through the patient-doctor visit.
“However, it still felt like there was something missing. It is incredible that patients are at the table (in some places), but I wanted them to be spearheading the conversation. Hence, my co-director, Divya Gopisetty, and I came up with a new patient-forward innovation framework, which sought to promote patient partnership. But innovation can’t be done successfully within a silo – all perspectives and expertise are needed. Therefore, we also made sure to create multi-stakeholder teams with the focus of dismantling power hierarchies that typically exist in order to promote the most fruitful collaborations.
“We were specifically drawn to diabetes because of the strength and resilience individuals with diabetes have. As in most chronic conditions, patients are truly the experts on their own conditions, serving as their own doctors for the 99 percent of the time they are not seeing their physicians. We wanted to harness this expertise and use it as a driving force towards more meaningful innovation. Thus, Disrupt Diabetes was born.”
Trying to change medical care in the United States is a gargantuan job, but Gupta was willing to take some first steps. “I think the biggest challenge was juggling being a student and trying to plan this conference; my co-director and I often joked about how we wish we could be doing the conference full time.
“We received so much energy from everyone we talked to – from physicians across the country who gave their time to two students they didn’t know to the patients who became our powerhouses to our mentors, everyone expressed how necessary Disrupt Diabetes was in order to create a larger communal shift in our thinking around innovation. We felt so validated in the things that we have felt frustrated by in our experiences and were trying to fix within diabetes innovation with Disrupt. That energy is what really kept us going during this year.”
The results have been worth it, Gupta said. Three winning teams received monetary awards and mentorship to continue their projects. “Two of these teams had overlapping solutions and were chosen to share an award and collaborate for an even more impactful product down the line,” Gupta said. “This was a huge win for me because one of our primary goals with this initiative was to create deep collaboration between different stakeholders. The judges wanting to promote this collaboration was a sign that we were able to do that. The teams also have the opportunity to present their progress at a diabetes innovation conference in November.”
One other result was the creation of an “innovation framework which can be applied to a variety of conditions and may become an annual conference,” Gupta said. “Many of the people who participated in Disrupt, whether it was for the full two-plus months or just the day of, wished for us to continue this next year.”
Another goal Gupta is pleased to have reached is the creation of a community of Disruptors. “The relationships that came out of Disrupt were so genuine,” she said. “Because everyone came from a vastly different background, each individual had so much to bring to the table and were respected for it. In this process of empathy and listening, beautiful bonds were formed, which will hopefully grow as they take what they saw and felt at Disrupt back into their own communities.”
Gupta plans to continue her education in medical school, but first she is off to South Africa for a three-week conservation photography project, “which I’m incredibly excited about,” she said. While applying to medical schools, she plans to stay in the Bay Area and “work to further health care innovation and elevate all voices in health care.”
“I am so incredibly grateful for all that I have learned from directing Disrupt Diabetes,” Gupta added. “I have grown in so many ways as a learner, a designer and future health care professional, and I want to extend my gratitude to everyone who has supported me on this journey. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience bringing together such amazing minds and seeing the power of compassion in creating a brighter health care future.”