The health seeker is any person aware of his or her motivation to improve his or her health, whether sick or not. Health seeking is the natural pursuit of one’s appropriate balance of well-being, the continuous moving toward a person’s own centre and recognition of “normal” health. For some, normal is just not feeling any symptoms; for others, it may be achieving the physical performance of an Olympian. (Definition from Design for Care, FAQ) Either way, health seeking is a process view based on both behavior and one’s inner experience of “storing health,” it is not an identity.
There were several reasons for insinuating a new label. I needed a way to identify a person-centred view of care that embraces the full lifecycle of an individual and their circles of care. But we can’t say “person” all the time as a referent – and “patient” I like to reserve for the technical, clinical meaning only. And in a design book, I felt it was important to guide product-level designers away from “users” and user-centred.
The health-seeking impulse is also a systemic concept. Health seeking represents a motivation to restore balance, and is homeostatic in nature. I tend to disagree with the concept of “optimal” health, a concept which, from a person-centered and systems view, seems to overreach the human condition. An individual cannot ever reach or measure optimal, but we do recognize our own “normal.”
To optimize a function means to engineer its relationship to the environment to maximize its success in all known or preferred states. Optimizing ignores the real world complexity of many functions of a person, and presents health more as a engineering concept (where an optimal target can be defined and met as a benchmark). Research and experience shows people “seek normal,” even if normal for some is high performing and for others is merely comfortable. The reference should be with the person, not objective measures associated with an optimal state. That’s the system model chosen for the book.
A visual presentation of the health seeker emerges in the views of a person’s full lifecycle as in the book’s persona Elena’s journey from care-giver to recovering a new normal following a significant series of clinical encounters:
The health seeking journey situates the health seeker in a larger context where each stage of awareness results in (possibly, depending) a different encounter, a different outcome, and even a different circle of care. The journey shown here is not the sequence of supply-sided touchpoints of a service interaction, but the relationship of motivations to chosen touchpoints, leading to encounters and information resources. In this context, health seeking is rather like information seeking – an individual’s process for seeking resources and support to reach preferred outcomes.
Instances of health information seeking, as with the health concerns they reflect, are associated with a person’s experience of ill health. The health seeker is a person acting on the intention to pursue or sustain health, and health seeking is a purposeful activity that aims to restore or improve health. This new, neutral term gives context to the full range of experiences a person encounters in the pursuit of a homeostatic balance of relative good health.
When any concern arises—whether it’s sleeplessness, an unusual internal pain, or a chronic condition—our perspective changes, our information activity becomes focused and intentional, and in some cases our identity changes. A personal mood shifts from the indifference of everyday health to that of relieving a concern. Health seeking begins in earnest. People may undergo a significant change in identity—from a nonmedicalized self to that of a patient or even of a disease sufferer.