BUENOS AIRES — The late Francisco Maglio, the long-time head of Intensive Care at Hospital Muñiz in Buenos Aires, had a saying. "For years we doctors have been at the bedside of our patients. But what we need to do now is be on their side."
It was a view that "Pancho," as he was affectionately known, put into practice while working at the hospital, and that he later developed in books and lectures as head of the Argentine Society of Anthropological Medicine. It's also a vision that, three years after his death, inspired an experimental project spearheaded by his daughter Tuti, who heads the hospital's Institutional Relations department.
The centerpiece of the project is little cabin — a Listening Module, they call it — set up in the Hospital Muñiz gardens. And its purpose is to provide patients a safe place to give feedback about the treatment they receive and their interactions with the facility's doctors and staff.
The module is consciously colorful and could be mistaken for an art installation. But it's also a bit like a confessional, and its purpose is to help patients say what they really feel, without holding back. It is a small, orange cart on wheels, and inside, patients can leave a recording or a written note — alone and anonymously.
Francisco Maglio believed this approach to patient feedback should replace the traditional interview format. Questioning patients in a hospital could be intimidating, or even become "inquisitorial," he realized. Like judges and policemen, "We [doctors] ask questions," the late doctor once said. "And all three of us have 'uniforms' and can 'confine' individuals either as inmates or patients."
As a proponent of holistic treatment, Maglio was well aware that if a medical consultation gets off to a bad start, it can predictably provoke the patient's 'resistance.'
The designers of the listening cart wanted it to be clearly visible, thus its playful form and color. The design seeks to make the patient comfortable inside, and especially feel sheltered. Particular care was taken to ensure the module could be used by patients with immunodeficiency. The cabin contains a desk and chair for writing by hand, and a recorder in a small console with a single button to start and end voice message recordings.
The outer shell is treated to resist the weather and the cart is mobile like a trailer or vehicle. It can be moved to different parts of the Muñiz gardens, or taken to another hospital.
The inside of the module — Photo: Investigaciones del Futuro/Facebook
After a couple of months, the Listening Module gathered in a good many, worthwhile opinions on patient experiences, sensations and wishes on various levels. These then became part of an exhibition at the hospital's 7th Congress, which took lace last November at the Metropolitan Design Center.
It was unusual venue for a medical congress. More unusual still was that several of the event's presentations mentioned the data and mechanics of the booth, and praised it as an opportunity to rethink doctor-patient relations.
Tuti Maglio also manages the hospital museum and its patrimony, contributing furthermore to the integral healthcare of patients through reading and art workshops. Her father believed illness goes beyond a patient's affected organs, and that healthcare, therefore, should also take a much wider view.
The younger Maglio and the A77 studio have been collaborating for some time now, and the architects have undertaken other projects like lecturing on techniques for video displays inside the museum, or creating equipment using discarded bed parts. And last year, Tuti Maglio created an Art Space in the waiting room of the hospital pharmacy, where patients spend time before receiving medicines.
The cabin was part of this same quest for holistic attention to patients. It was open permanently throughout December, to mark the Art Space's 10th anniversary. In that respect is really is an art installation. But it's a medical instrument of sorts. And it's certainly a curiosity.
Regardless, the purpose of the listening booth above all is to help realize the late Magio's vision of bringing doctors and patients closer together, of helping doctors go from the bedside, as he used to say, to really being on their patients' side.
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