Mastodon Conference Review: 2017 End Well Symposium – Design for the End of Life Experience ~ Pallimed

Monday, December 11, 2017

Conference Review: 2017 End Well Symposium – Design for the End of Life Experience

By Lizzy Miles (@LizzyMiles_MSW)

End Well advertised itself as “a first of its kind gathering of design, tech, health care and activist communities with the goal of generating human-centered, interdisciplinary innovation for the end of life experience.”  I feel privileged to have been able to attend. The Symposium was capped at 400 attendees and sold out early. There was a serendipitous momentary technology glitch that allowed me and two friends to register after it was sold out. Fortunately, the organizers graciously agreed to squeeze us in since we had paid.

The single-day event took place at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco. The location was fitting for the theme of the conference as the entire lobby seating area was outfitted with workspaces and USB outlets for our technology-focused lives.

Because this End Well was the ‘beta’ version, we were all going in eyes wide open with a curiosity of what the experience would be like. I imagine the first surprise was for the event organizers that the event sold out so fast and then there was some grumbling amongst my industry colleagues about the waiting list. Funny, we don’t get indignant with a popular restaurant if they don’t have a table. I think the frustration was a compliment. When you build something cool, people want to be there to watch.

The other unknown with this conference was really who the target audience was. As a hospice social worker in the field, I didn’t really feel like it was meant to be for my profession, but I know it was the right place for me personally. I am passionate about hospice of course, but also technology, innovation and ideas, and I got what I came for, and so much more.

The End Well Symposium format was different from what I’m used to on the conference circuit. It was condensed into one day with no breakout sessions and no audience questions. More than one attendee compared it to a TED conference as many presentations were 15 minutes. The speakers were TED quality as well – dynamic and comfortable in their skin on stage.  As a hospice worker, of course, when I saw that BJ Miller, Frank Ostaseski, Lucy Kalanithi, Jessica Zitter and Dawn Gross were speaking, that’s when I knew I had to attend. They were inspiring as expected. The a-ha moments for me came from the speakers who were not previously known to me.

If you don’t already know these people, you should pay attention to them. They are making waves in redesigning end of life:

Ivor Williams, a senior design associate at the Helix Centre shared a story of how they
redesigned the CPR form in the U.K. to require a discussion between physician and family. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Ivor the day before the conference and our discussion was so rich it has to be its own article (coming soon).

Sound Designer Yoko Sen challenged us to contemplate the last sound we wanted to hear when we were dying. In case you’re curious, I want to hear and feel my cats purring.

Cynthia Perrilliat, Executive Director of Alameda County Care Alliance is building caregiver infrastructures with community navigators that includes training, support and recognition for the hard work that they do.

Architect and strategist Clive Wilkinson reminded us, “Everything in the human environment communicates a message” and implored us to be mindful of settings. He showed us the architectural details of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. name a few.

There was a strong thematic message throughout the day that we can do better and that we need to do better. I lost track of how many speakers quoted the statistic of the variance of where people want to die versus where they actually die. It did get old after a while, and to be honest, no one directly addressed how to solve that particular conundrum. We touched on caregiving, but at a high level. It’s all well and good to recognize a change is needed and to talk about it, but I’m not sure I walked away with any tangible things that I could do.

The call to action presented by Mark Ganz (Cambia Health Solutions) at the end of the day said we should ask ourselves these three things:
1. Do I have hope? Fundamental deep hope that lights a fire in my belly.
2. Do I believe I have the power to drive change? Do I believe I have something to give?
3. Am I willing to risk everything to achieve it?

He made the great observation that, “The speakers we’ve been treated to today are living in a state of yes.”

The Symposium was thought-provoking and powerful and I’m glad I went. It is good to see that they are already planning for next year. Thinking ahead here are some things I hope to see as this conference grows. My wish is that next year there are some speakers who take us on the bridge from the current state to where we want to be. I also feel that there was a little too much emphasis on what is wrong. There were glimpses of some innovations that are being done, but the tone by some was critical towards the system. We do have opportunities, of course, but we also need to take our strengths and enhance those. Depictions and stories of the dying bordered on maudlin. I attest that there are good deaths happening right now in this country.

From a practical standpoint, there was an irony that thematically we can solve for design at end of life through technology and bringing communities together, and yet the Symposium had missed opportunities with demonstrating the power of the crowd. We put post-its on walls, but what about technology in which attendees can vote on comments by the speaker or send in comments like in a webchat?  The timing was so packed, as well as the physical space that there wasn’t really the opportunity to meet and be inspired by all the attendees.

If the Symposium is about being innovative, then let’s be innovative in the moment. There were artists, designers and thought-leaders who were sitting in the audience. How do we create a gathering that maximizes the knowledgebase of the entire room and not just the stage? That would be practicing what we’re preaching.

If you missed out on End Well 2017, pre-registration is open for End Well 2018.  Additionally, what I LOVED about this conference was there were more Twitter-folk then I had ever seen.  #Endwell17 was trending in San Francisco. Search for it on Twitter and you’ll see lots of quotes (and too many pictures of me). I was so very excited to meet in real life so many #hpm people that I have known for years online.

Lizzy Miles, MA, MSW, LSW is a hospice social worker in Columbus, Ohio and a regular contributor to Pallimed. She is the author of a book of happy hospice stories: Somewhere In Between: The Hokey Pokey, Chocolate Cake and the Shared Death Experience. Lizzy is best known for bringing the Death Cafe concept to the United States. You can find her on Twitter @LizzyMiles_MSW.

Some highlights from Twitter #EndWell17

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