By Leslie Ziegler
No one tells you that the worst part of your first colonoscopy isn’t the six feet of rubber tubing going where no tubing should go. (You can’t even feel it!). Oh no. It’s the 24 hours before the procedure, at which point you must fast, drink only clear liquids and consume a gallon of a truly horrific cleansing substance whose taste I can only describe as rancid lemonade. The rancid lemonade’s formal name is Polyethylene glycol, and if you Google “colonoscopy prep” you’ll see universal disdain it receives from all those forced to bow down and consume its nastiness.
The new pill version of the aforementioned process touts its biggest benefit as bypassing said “bad-tasting liquid,” citing a study* that revealed that the bowel prep process is the top reason people skip preventive colonoscopies. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and although it’s among the most preventable, only 43% of adults follow the recommended screening guidelines. Worse, 61% of cases are identified only after it’s metastasized.** This begs the question: why has it taken so long for someone to make the experience more palatable so procrastination doesn’t allow detectable stage 1 to progress to an untreatable stage 4? I seriously doubt that a more pleasant tasting version would lead to a rise in prescription fraud, as all those who have experienced the intended effects can tell you. “Hi, my name is Frances, and I’m addicted to colon prep solution.” Doubt it.
We’re big fans of the non-health crowd using their superpowers to improve an experience or rethink a broken system. Look to what the Cleveland Clinic’s partnership with Diane Von Furstenberg and her infamous wrap dress did for the poorly designed hospital gown. They took what was one of the least dignified parts of a hospital stay (whose idea was that open back, anyway?) and made it cheerful, comfortable and even stylish in comparison to its predecessor.
I’d like to see what would happen if the Jamie Olivers and Ferran Adriàs of the world applied their talents as chefs to medical solutions like the above. If these guys can make apple into caviar, surely improving the taste of something as abhorrent as colon prep powder can’t be that difficult. And unlike the caviar, which does look incredible, it may save some lives along the way.
Between the fear of the unknown and knowledge that the results will be life changing, no medical test comes without stress. And although incremental changes are coming in the form of improved hospital gowns and pills where liquids used to be, most every hospital stereotype–including the colorless waiting room filled with AARP and Cat Fancy magazines–is still alive and kicking.
Patient centered design is often about the simple, non-medical solution… so I’m still waiting for my meyer lemon and strawberry flavored prep liquid, Jamie. Want to get on that?