The mindset for a chronically healthy society

A chronically healthy society. It might sound like a utopia to many people, but this is an important goal for the Embassy of Health. “There is something positive about looking at how we can achieve health, which is very different from fighting a disease once it is there,” says Marleen van Bergeijk, designer and curator of the Embassy of Health. This year, the Embassy is putting a particular focus on the mindset of those involved. “What attitude should companies and organisations adopt to bring about changes in the health system?” That is a central question.

Type Update
Published on 29 August 2022
Part of Embassy of Health
The mindset for a chronically healthy society
Part of Embassy of Health

Chronic health is now a key principle for the Embassy of Health for the sixth year in a row. Every year, the designers highlight a different aspect of this. “We have already shown many concepts for changes in healthcare,” Van Bergeijk begins. “But to actually implement changes, companies and organisations need a certain attitude. In healthcare, the daily work continues. Still, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and look at the system and our vision of the future.”

Changing attitude

When looking at chronic health, preventive care plays an important role. “But how do you create the change in mindset to implement a change like this?” This remains complicated, says the curator. During Dutch Design Week 2022, the Embassy of Health focuses on three important attitudes of companies and organisations: agility, responsibility and learning.  


The first attitude is agility: “It’s important that we have the ability to adapt. During the coronavirus pandemic, we saw that it is possible to turn things around quickly. But there has to be a reason to do it. We need the same flexibility to create space to experiment with more preventive care,” says Van Bergeijk.


The second attitude is responsibility: “Who is actually responsible for health?” she asks. “Responsibility cannot lie only with the individual or only with the government. Everyone needs to work together for a chronically healthy society.” This applies to companies and organisations, as well as people among themselves. “Some people need help, for example, in making choices. Then it’s a good thing if their environment contributes ideas and support.” 

This is not only about people’s health but also about our environment. “We can have a healthy lifestyle, but if we don’t take good care of the planet, harmful substances are still released. The tricky thing about this is that the choices we make now about our health and our environment only have an effect years later,” she says. 

And then there is the development that certain technologies are increasingly making it possible for us to transform ourselves into superhumans. But do we want that? And how should we shape that in relation to our health? DesignLab (University of Twente) and designer Lisa Mandemaker are working on a project called Monuments of m/otherhood. They look at what is technologically possible and the effects on society. “They are creating an interactive installation for DDW about the artificial uterus. Suppose you are born from an artificial womb; how do you relate to that technology as a person? Most people relate to their human mother, but what is that like when you’ve come out of technology? That raises a lot of questions about technology and life. It triggers a discussion, which is so interesting to me,” says Van Bergeijk. 


The last attitude is learning: “It’s about an open and curious attitude, really paying attention to someone else’s perspective. What you often see within projects is that people are working towards the single key, towards that one solution for everything. Sometimes there is not just one solution. There are so many different people, and everyone is looking for something different,” says the curator. 

Maxima Medisch Centrum (MMC) and Trudo housing association, both Embassy of Health partners, are working together with Studio Sociaal Centraal and Studio Marleen van Bergeijk on a special project in this area. “They look at what a hospital and a housing association can mean for residents in social rental housing districts. It is known that people who live in these places are generally less healthy and don’t live as long in good health,” she says. “So now these organisations are working together to look at what it takes to make people healthier. This can include lifestyle programs, for example, but also more guidance before people enter surgery or other support that people need.” 

As a visitor, you can see your Health Overshoot Day during the Embassy of Health exhibition. “We are well aware of Earth Overshoot Day, which is the day on which we, as humanity, have used up all the resources the Earth can make in one year. This date is often much earlier than the end of the year,” she outlines. Like the earth, healthcare is also under pressure. “We hear alarming reports that healthcare is going to grind to a halt. The budgets and manpower are already exhausted in some situations, while a lot of people still need help.” It is important to look at what we can do now to require less care in the future, which is what the installation by the MMC and Trudo is all about. 

‘As the world is becoming increasingly more complex, design is becoming more important. Design can support understanding. There is always technological progress, but design is indispensable to see the effect and determine the value you give to technology.’

Design increasingly important

This year’s exhibition by the Embassy of Health will feature many interactive installations. Van Bergeijk: “As the world is becoming increasingly more complex, design is becoming more important. Design can support understanding. There is always technological progress, but design is indispensable to see the effect and determine the value you give to technology.” 

Designing for health care is close to the curator’s heart. “I have rheumatism myself. That’s one of the reasons I started designing for healthcare. I think that processes in healthcare don’t always really suit people,” she says. ReumaNederland is another of the Embassy’s partners. This year, together with the design agency Muzus, they are creating an installation to let people without rheumatism experience what it is like to live with the disease. “It’s invisible but sometimes has a major impact on your life. Because the symptoms can come on suddenly, it is difficult for those around to understand. Why can you do something one time and not another time? It is very important that people around a rheumatism patient can empathise and offer support if necessary. Of course, this does not only apply to people with rheumatism, but also to people with other chronic diseases.”  

Time and attention for each other

“In the end, we all have something that challenges us in terms of health. It’s important to have understanding for each other,” says Van Bergeijk. “On the one hand, we are very much concerned with how conditions in the world can be changed. We want to live as long as possible and optimise our bodies. That fascinates me, but there is something external about it. I think it is very important to devote time and attention to looking at those around you. That you know you have a safety net when things are declining physically or mentally. It takes time and attention to build that up and to really look out for each other, but it is invaluable. I think that’s the key to health.” 

The Embassy of Health exhibition can be seen during Dutch Design Week in the Klokgebouw on Strijp-S. There are also various workshops and lectures. The Embassy of Health conference will take place on Friday 28 October. For more information, visit the Embassy webpage. 

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