Planetree Prominent at HCD.10

Posted on November 29, 2010


I may have mentioned before that each conference has an unspoken theme, an informal thread that unconsciously runs through the days events. Although the pallor of healthcare reform hung in the air at HCD.10, two weeks ago I picked up on a lot of Planetree mentions.

Sometimes the reference was overt, as in my seminar on similarities between airport design and hospital design. Sometimes it was more vague, as in a mention of “patient-centered design”, the catch prase of Planetree. And sometimes the reference danced around the subject with description and no exact mention.

One of those instances was by Dr. Esther Sternberg, who was a featured speaker. Dr. Sternberg also presented a breakfast video about her recovery from arthritis while on a trip to Greece. The video wove scientific study, quotes and data in with Sternberg’s excursions and lifestyle-altering activities. The most scientific mention was a brief discussion about the benefit and power of the placebo effect, which was interesting. However, I found Sternberg’s other major activities beneficial to her recovery more discussion-worthy, especially in its relation to Planetree.

None of these are novel, in fact they are classic. First, Sternberg found rest and meditation helpful. Her job back in the States was very stressful. In an environment with no stressors, she was able to heal. Second, Sternberg took part in exercise.  In the U.S. she did not take time to exercise. In Greece, she took up swimming and regular walking, where she could enjoy nature. Third, Sternberg watched and altered her diet. Instead of an Americanized diet, she ate lighter meals and local food simply prepared. Fourth, Sternberg danced regularly. She found local traditions of song with dancing relaxing. Finally, Sternberg enjoyed leisurely days. Instead of planned, busy days back home she made sure to take time to ‘smell the flowers’. Each of her discoveries was backed up with the brain scans showing the physiological responses of the human body to these stimuli.

Planetree is an organization that believes the patient comes first in health care and that the heart of health care is treatment via the five senses. Sternberg’s drugless healing was an ideal case study for treatment via the five senses. Sternberg tasted good, healthy food; she saw and responded to beautiful surroundings; she listened to native music; she smelled the clean air and captivating nature; she touched and interacted with her environment with particular care when exercising.

Sternberg reported her arthritis had less pain, and required minimal or no medication to keep it in check—all due to lifestyle choices during a relatively short vacation to Greece. Her story also proves the power of proactivity through preventative care. Few people would acquire a malady and specifically look to take a trip to Greece to remedy it; however, by managing lifestyle using Greek life as a template, the effects of the malady can be reduced.

Preventative care we know is a hot topic. As patient-centered design catches on more, expect to see Planetree become more prominent because it is an ethos that works. Studies, articles and case studies of treatment via the five senses will be a growing and more reliable part of the designer’s palette.