Empowering choices

Building a patient-centric toolkit to better facilitate birth control conversations in health centers

Upstream USA

  • Client
    Upstream USA
  • Industry
  • Services
    Customer Research, Communication Design, UX Design, Visual Design
  • Client
    Upstream USA

  • Services
    Customer Research, Communication Design, UX Design, Visual Design

A need for honest information

Upstream USA is a national non-profit working to expand opportunity by reducing unplanned pregnancy across the U.S. Upstream provides training and technical assistance to health centers to ensure all patients have equitable access to the birth control method of their choice.
To help further that mission, Upstream partnered with Smart Design to explore how they could create a suite of educational materials to better support their patient-led counseling model. Together we created a new toolkit help to facilitate personalized conversations by enabling patients and their healthcare teams to quickly compare contraceptive methods based on the patient’s needs and preferences. 

Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards

Upstream USA was named a Finalist in the Health category and received an Honorable Mention in the Social Good category at the 2021 Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards.

Design Thinking Awards

Upstream USA was named a Finalist at the 2021 Design Thinking Awards in the Design Thinking for Good category.

Smart Design took the time to understand us as an organization—our goals, our values, and our commitment to health centers and their patients. This made the process of working with them not only successful but also fun.”

Cara Willis

Vice President of Communication and Marketing, Upstream USA

Starting the conversation

Decisions about pregnancy and contraception are complex and personal; they should be made in full partnership between patients and their providers. However, systemic inequities in healthcare prevent providers from offering the full range of birth control methods to all patients. To put it simply, access to birth control is not equitable across America. 

Upstream developed an innovative and engaging training approach in support of its mission to create impact at scale, but they did not have their own educational materials to supply to their partnering health centers. Upstream wanted to create new materials that were inclusive, accessible, and provided information about a variety of choices without prejudice.

Understanding patients

Smart Design chatted with dozens of patients to learn about their birth control needs and co-create educational materials together. We visited a variety of health centers and talked with HCPs to gain insight into the use cases for birth control educational materials and gathered feedback from a diverse group of patients. Remote prototyping and co-creation sessions helped us understand what was resonating throughout our iterative process.

We learned that patients have different needs at different moments of the journey that were not being addressed. Patients want to play an active role in their decision-making, but existing materials were not grounded in their goals, needs, and expectations for in-health center appointments. A visit to a health center can be stressful — but a visit to chat about birth control and sex life takes it up several notches. It was important that patients feel comfortable and not judged. 

Meet the new patient materials

We translated our findings into an educational toolkit that includes a patient-facing welcome book and a decision making wheel. The new Upstream educational materials help to facilitate more personalized conversations by enabling patients and their clinical teams to quickly compare methods based on their specific needs. 

By eliminating jargon and bias we made the information easy to understand. We combated myths by creating resources that are factual, yet relatable. Careful word choice helps to make the writing accessible to readers of various levels, and avoiding words like “good” or “bad” prevents coercion and judgement. Engaging visuals and a lighthearted tone help to make it easier for people to feel at ease and prepared. 

The welcome booklet

This introductory booklet sets the tone for the healthcare experience and prepares patients for their appointments. It consolidates frequently asked questions, myths, and misperceptions, and provides a snapshot of all birth control methods.

The decision-making wheel

Upstream’s decision-making wheel helps to facilitate patient-centric conversations by enabling patients and their clinical teams to quickly compare methods. The content in the wheel is reflective of the patients’ key drivers for choosing birth control.

The postcards

Postcards provide the right level and type of information to help patients make decisions around their birth control. They can be used as self-guided learning materials or as a tool to facilitate conversations between healthcare teams and patients. 

The mobile-friendly webpage

A mobile-friendly webpage helps patients make informed choices by filtering birth control methods based on side-effects, benefits, and bleeding changes and to learn more information on each individual method.

It was great working with the Smart Design team to develop our new patient education materials. The entire team from the project manager to the senior designer were committed to developing useful materials that centered patients’ views, wishes, and goals. I knew the quality of the design would be top-notch, but I was even more thrilled with the collaboration and thought-partnership that we developed with the team.”

Alyssa Meza

Brand Marketing Manager, Upstream USA

Support at every step

Upstream launched their new patient materials and toolkit in September 2020.

Due to Covid-19, the printed materials offered in clinics are laminated so they can be easily sanitized. Digital versions of the materials are available on the Upstream website and are easily accessible for telehealth appointments. 

The materials are currently being used with health center partners across 5 states and growing.

Upstream is currently working on translating the birth control education toolkit into other languages and is continuously seeking feedback from clinics on ways to expand the offering.

Let’s design a smarter world together