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How design is driving change in healthcare

11 Jan


Designing for healthcare can force you to rethink everything you thought you knew about how people behave. The industry’s dense thicket of lawyers, privacy regulations, and outdated technology is easily the most frustrating part of a designer’s job – but it also creates opportunities. And the chance to improve on the way healthcare is delivered is hugely motivating. Exhilarating, even.

These are a few of the conclusions drawn by the designers who recently spoke about what their jobs in healthcare mean to them. Hosted in San Francisco by Opower, Design for Good panelists included:

  • Moderator David Webster, who led IDEO’s global Health & Wellness practice
  • Jesse Silver, VP of Product for Omada Health, which focuses on promoting healthy behavioral changes
  • Susan Dybbs, Head of Design at Collective Health, which works to improve employer-sponsored health insurance
  • Laura Martini, Director of Product Design for Counsyl

The group weighed in a number of topics, including how to create a user-centered experience in a world where the fax machine can still call the shots, and how design can benefit in a mission-driven company culture.

If attendance is any indication, design in healthcare is a hot topic. Nearly 150 people packed the event. “It’s refreshing hearing from other designers facing the same kinds of challenges we are,” says Martini. “Many of the ‘best practices’ in design – like short onboarding flows or clever website animations – don’t make sense in medicine. Working in this space gives you a chance to reinvent what good design looks like.”

Below are a few clips from the event.

What challenges are specific to designing for healthcare?


No designer can work effectively to improve health care without first becoming familiar with the regulatory environment. Developing an understanding of everything from HIPAA, to FDA requirements, to insurance coding is simply part of the job. The result can be a pace that’s “a little bit slow-moving at times,” says Jesse Silver.

But challenges can also turn out to be opportunities. Martini talked about Counsyl’s decision to improve healthcare delivery by taking on the industry’s price transparency problem.

Says Martini, “It shouldn’t take Silicon Valley engineers and a lot of time and resources and years of effort to be able to give patients a simple answer to the question, ‘How much will this cost me?’”

What can users teach us about designing for healthcare?


In a world where technology is helping businesses everywhere achieve frictionless transactions, it can be a struggle for designers to keep in mind that’s not what always works in healthcare. Sometimes patients reject slicker and faster in favor of deeper relationships with a company, as Jesse Silver’s team discovered in the course of working with diabetics to make healthy lifestyle changes.

“We have people calling up to tell us they want the onboarding process to be longer because they want us to understand them,” says Silver.

And in many clinics the fax machine is still a critical part of clinical workflow, says Martini, which means “you have to design fax-first.” In healthcare, it’s about facilitating human-to-human interaction and not just coming up with solutions to enabling technology.

How can the desire to make the world a better place fuel good design?


Each designer on the panel noted the advantages that come from working for a mission-driven company. They credited the “desire to make the world a better place,” in Martini’s words, for not only inspiring designers but for creating a corporate culture that supports good design.

“Designers, I think, by nature are passionate and usually driven by some mission,” says Jesse Silver. “And so, if they’re aligned with your mission, then design flows more smoothly throughout the entire organization.”

Design for Good: Rethinking Healthcare

If you’ve got time, grab some popcorn and check out the entire event.



Counsyl Appoints Ted Snelgrove as Chief Business Officer

8 Jan


SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Counsyl, a health technology company that offers DNA testing for diseases that can impact men, women and their children, today announced that Ted Snelgrove has joined the company as Chief Business Officer. With more than 25 years of commercial, product management and team leadership experience, Mr. Snelgrove will be responsible for driving product management and commercial strategies for Counsyl.

“As we’ve grown rapidly, Ted’s experience and seasoned operating instincts are directly relevant,” said Ramji Srinivasan, cofounder and chief executive officer of Counsyl. “With his help, we can continue to scale the company to serve millions of new patients and tens of thousands of physicians.”

Mr. Snelgrove has deep experience in the molecular diagnostic sector, having built and led the original commercial team at Genomic Health that created and launched the Oncotype DX product line. He later helped build Crescendo Bioscience — now part of Myriad Genetics — where his Team developed a strong disease management franchise in rheumatology with the Vectra DA system. Ted also served as CEO at CellScape, an early player in the NIPT market. Most recently, Ted was the Oncology/Hematology Business Unit Head at Jazz Pharmaceuticals, where he led a fast growing division focused on hematologic malignancies and stem cell transplant. He got his start in the industry at Eli Lilly and progressed through commercial and strategy roles at Immunex, Amgen and ALZA. He received an MBA in Marketing from the University of Michigan and previously served as an officer in the US Navy.

“I’m excited to join Counsyl, as it aligns with my passion of being part of a high growth, mission-driven company,” said Snelgrove. “I look forward to working with the Counsyl leadership team to drive innovation that makes DNA testing more accessible. Ramji has assembled a great team and I am honored to come in at this stage and help the Company move to the next level.”

Counsyl offers DNA testing for key times in people’s lives – for those starting a family, and for those at risk for inherited cancer. For more information on Counsyl, please visit

About Counsyl

Counsyl is a health technology company that offers DNA testing for diseases that can impact men, women and their children. The Counsyl philosophy is simple: screen for diseases where advanced knowledge makes a difference in health outcomes, whether it’s changing a behavior, pursuing preventative measures, or simply preparing for what lies ahead.

The Counsyl team includes an accomplished group of problem-solvers — top engineers, scientists, and designers — who are taking the lead on building the modern clinical laboratory. Scientific rigor, custom robotics, and software are at the heart of every Counsyl product, resulting in better, faster and more affordable screens that are broadly accessible. Beyond the laboratory, Counsyl offers doctors and patients a technology platform for results delivery in real time, with on-demand access to board-certified genetic counselors.

Counsyl has screened more than 500,000 patients and served more than 6,000 health care professionals in its CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited and NYS CLEP-permitted clinical laboratory. The company has raised a total of $102 million and is privately backed by RSTP, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Founders Fund, Felicis Ventures, David Drummond, and other high profile investors.

MDs get a “shared language” for discussions on carrier screening

18 Mar

When an oncologist assigns Stage One status to a tumor he’s letting his patient know they’re catching the problem early. It’s the kind of shorthand that’s missing in most clinical conversations about expanded carrier screening. Basically, there’s been no easy way for a doctor to indicate how serious a particular genetic disease is. Gabriel Lazarin, who works closely with physicians in his job as Director of Genetic Counselors on Counsyl’s clinical sales team, decided to see if he could change that.

Gabriel Lazarin at Counsyl headquarters.

Gabriel Lazarin at Counsyl headquarters.

“I wanted to give physicians and patients a shared language,” says Lazarin, who joined Counsyl five years ago as its first genetic counselor. “A way to talk about the impact of a disease in a way that’s more objective than saying “it’s not that bad,” or “it is bad.” Two years ago he helped organize a study to establish a scale for rating genetic diseases and in December the Severity Index was published in Plos One Journal.

The result is that a physician can now easily guide patients interested in carrier screening to a customized outcome. There are patients who find it alarming that they’re carriers for early hearing loss, for instance, while others don’t really mind. Patients can choose to be tested for every disease on the panel, including GJB2-related hearing loss, rated 2, or moderate. Or maybe they only want to be evaluated for conditions that have been rated 4, or profound, such as Canavan disease and Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome. The beauty of the Severity Index is that it’s up to patients to decide on their level of tolerance. Says Lazarin, “I hope this starts us down a path of making it easier for physicians to discuss screening with their patients.”

Internship with a genetic counselor sparks a career

Lazarin has always loved science and as an undergrad at Stanford was naturally drawn to genetics. News about the genome was exploding in the early 2000s and when an advisor noticed his interest he suggested Lazarin consider genetic counseling. Intrigued, he shadowed a genetic counselor and discovered he loved it. He spent a couple of years after graduation working in the Stanford admissions office but couldn’t shake the connection he’d felt so he applied to the masters program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

IMG_2205Lazarin arrived at Counsyl after a stint working in a high-risk pregnancy clinic in Phoenix doing prenatal genetic counseling. His chance to be a Counsyl client came a couple of years ago when he and his wife, a family physician who lives with him in New York City, decided to have a baby. “I knew to not expect anything bad but I also know from clinical experience that the unexpected happens,” he says. So it was a relief, he says, to find their children weren’t at significant risk. In December, he and his wife welcomed a healthy baby girl.

Lazarin, who recently explained his study approach in a guest post on the DNA Exchange, says he’d love to do more research. “I think we’re helping advance the field of genetic counseling by taking something complicated and turning it into something predictable,” he says. “I’m happy to be working with an organization that’s so willing to share information that benefits everyone.”


A Fun Friday Post

25 Oct

We were so amused by this rap video on the discovery of DNA, we just had to share. Enjoy!

No Limits on Creativity

15 Jul

DwayneWe met Dwayne Szot at the Annual Families of SMA conference in Anaheim, CA and were amazed by his ability to use art to engage members of the SMA community.  Dwayne was kind enough to sit down with Counsyl and discuss his work.

Q: What inspired you to create Zot Artz?

Dwayne: “As a youth, I lived in a foster home in the rural midwest and two of my foster siblings had cerebral palsy.  I grew up with people of all abilities around me, and I distinctly remember a day when I had to carry my foster sister to catch a bus down a country road in Michigan. She wouldn’t have made it all the way down that hill on her crutches in time to catch the bus.  Experiences like that influenced my worldview and gave me the courage in the late 1980s and early 1990s to create an entirely different artform.  My first painting wheelchair was a sculptural endeavor straight out of Willy Wonka, with twirling parts and crazy gadgets. It was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the focus of my master’s thesis.  I was painting with my sculptural wheelchair painting machine in downtown Detroit, and I recall a disabled gentleman asking if he could drive the machine.  At that moment, my work of art became a tool for art, and this gentleman was transformed into an artist. The art was not merely in the sculptural design, but in the ability to transform the human spirit. My art became alive. It became a force for change in the lives of people with disabilities.  I imagine that painting with a wheelchair is like leaving footprints in the sand or creating snow angels in the winter.  You become one with your world. You create your mark.”

Q: What role does technology play in your artwork?

D: “I don’t think what I do is very high-tech, but it fills a need by fostering a new way for all individuals to create. I have always been fascinated with mechanical design and built machines  to enable my own artwork.  I used machines to apply color to very large surfaces, like buildings and frozen lakes.  This passion combined with my life experience gave me the insight to respond to the universal need for creative expression.  I build all of the attachments myself, and I think of my art as a different application of technology— a very human application.”

Q: Can you describe your artists?

D: “There are individuals of all abilities at our events. I bring together children and adults with and without disabilities to create and have fun.  Many of the artists have cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, hearing or visual impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, other health conditions. Having each participant use the same tools for art minimizes the focus on disability.  The process of creativity allows the artists to be engaged from start to finish; cut if you can cut, tear if that’s easier. We bring different worlds together without setting limits on ability.”

Q: What happens to those big murals after the event?

D: “We make 50-foot paintings, and then we cut them up into smaller gifts, like cards, gift boxes or stretched canvas pieces.  It’s a gift on many levels: it’s a gift to be able to be present and make art, it’s a gift to help children be creative, and it’s a gift to give back to the community.  For me, that is what art is all about.  It’s a concept to enrich peoples’ lives, rather than some crazy art idea.”

Q: How do you decide what to create in your studio?

D: “What I do is in direct response to life. The people I meet and love, friends and colleagues of all abilities.  For instance, I was ‘chalking up’ in a school classroom with kids of different abilities.  I took one of the kids out of his wheelchair so he could participate, but in doing so, I realized that he was completely out of his comfort zone.  That inspired me to create Chalk Walk and Roll, which is basically a simple way of allowing children in wheelchairs to draw with chalk on the ground.  It hadn’t occurred to me that there was a need for such a device until I saw a child struggling to draw on pavement with chalk, which is something we all do as kids.”

Q: What are you working on now?

D: “I’m working on Squirt Me, which is a backpack-like device that hangs from the back of the wheelchair.  It is switch activated and can squirt water.  We’re testing it out with paint now to see if we can use it as a mechanism for creating artwork.”

Q: Tell us about one of your most memorable Zot Artz moments.

D: “The Families of SMA conference was extremely memorable.  I have a passion for reaching out to children and siblings of all abilities.  The conference gave me both ends of the spectrum.  As an art guy, I’m more like a conductor than a creator.  The energy of the day contributes to the score.  That conference was the song of the day.”

Dwayne Szot, founder and president of Zot Artz, is just the right combination of artist, engineer, and big brother to excel at helping children with disabilities experience the joy of creating art. Szot’s education focused on art, starting with commercial and graphic art in high school. Winning graphic arts contests helped him attend the Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received a Master’s in Fine Art from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He founded Zot Artz to create adaptive art tools and make them available to teachers, therapists, residential providers, hospitals, parks, and other facilities that could offer art experiences to children.

Not Ready to Call it Quits

8 Jul

After 18 years in clinical genetics and 15 years of teaching students at Sarah Lawrence College, I will have officially retired from my academic life this August. As many of my dear friends and colleagues know, I am leaving for personal reasons. Truthfully, I am ready to take my career in a different direction. I have loved my time as a Genetic Counseling Program Director, but I am ready to step out of the narrowly- defined parameters of academia. I want to foster the pioneering spirit of genetic counseling by helping to shape its future in the genomic age.

I am in constant awe of genomic medicine and its power to heal and prevent disease. New tests are developing at lightning speed. These exciting changes herald a need for a paradigm shift in the way genetic services are provided. As more tests are developed and offered outside of the academic medical center model, we as genetic counselors need to explore new ways in which to maintain the humanity in a process that is top-heavy with information. As one example, genetic counselors can teach primary care providers—the nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants—what to say to patients; they can help them identify the right test for the right patient or how to make the appropriate referral.

Thirty-five years ago, when I started graduate school, much of the applied science we have now was fantasy. As the information and applications of genomics explode, there are no limits on what we can do with that knowledge. Yet my experience with each new test has led me to believe that whatever the newest technological breakthrough, the need for acknowledging and hearing the many stories of patients and families around that technology has not changed. I have experienced this in a many arenas: patients in the clinic adjusting to a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, inmates in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility requesting information about BRCA testing for affected family members, students in Guatemala’s Abriendo Oportunidades program discussing the impact of Spina Bifida on the family they left back in the local village. As always, there is need for vigilance in critically evaluating new technology in terms of its value to society, to patients. I want to use my knowledge and experience as a bellwether in this arena, being open-minded and skeptical at the same time, making sure we move forward with the ethical tenets of genetic counseling in mind.

For me, Counsyl epitomizes the best in the fast-paced world of genomics (and boy, is it fast!). The ethos of critical thinking, of caring, of doing the “right thing,” has been clear to me since I first heard about the Company a few years ago. Since I began my role as a consultant to Counsyl this spring, I have been impressed by how well people in the company listen, how respectful they are of the opinions of others and how thorough the internal research process is to really be sure that a product launch is being handled in a responsible way.The Counsyl team has embraced me with open arms and pulled me into projects that allow me to use my skills in a completely different and challenging way.

I have moved to sunny California and am adjusting to my new life on the West Coast. As far as work, some say I should call it quits, retire after a long fulfilling career. But I can’t. Not yet, as I feel there is more to do.

Caroline LieberCaroline Lieber is Director of Sarah Lawrence College’s Joan Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics, the country’s first and largest graduate program in genetic counseling. She is actively involved in professional education and recently traveled to Guatemala to assess the provision of genetic counseling services. After receiving the NSGC Jane Engelberg Memorial Fellowship in 2005, she worked on a project entitled “Narratives of Heritability: Privileging Family Stories as Genetic Understanding,” the results of which were published in 2011. Thereafter, Caroline and three students founded GenetAssist, an organization of genetic counselors who travel internationally to assist with genetics education and service implementation. Counsyl is thrilled to have Caroline on the team!

Counsyl Tech Talk: July 18, 2013 at 7pm

24 Jun

The cost of sequencing human genomes is plunging – 5x faster than the cost of computing.  The potential impact on preventive healthcare and the medical landscape is boundless.  The science is there but the scale isn’t.  That’s where Counsyl comes in.  We are building the technology platform to make genomics useful and accessible to everyone.  We hope you will join us on Thursday, July 18, from 7:00-9:00pm for our Tech Talk on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Big Data and Love the Data That Actually Counts.”

We look forward to hosting you at our newly renovated 60,000 square foot space in South San Francisco – oh and of course there will be food, drinks, and networking!

We’ll be providing shuttles from different locations in San Francisco as well as South SF Caltrain. Let us know where you are traveling from so that we can plan transportation appropriately.

RSVP on Eventbrite

“How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Big Data and Love the Data That Actually Counts.”

Speaker: Imran Haque, Director of Research, Counsyl

Imran Haque, Director of Research at Counsyl

Imran Haque, Director of Research at Counsyl

A single current DNA sequencer can produce 540GB of raw data in a few hours — without even covering an entire human genome. So, obviously, genomics must be a big data science.

In this talk I will deflate two pernicious myths: that “Big Data” is where all the action is, and that genomics is Big Data. I will explain why genomics, as practiced both in the clinic and in research, is distinct from other areas usually used to define “big data”. In particular, a dearth of outcomes data means that interpretable regions of the genome are tiny, while the rest is all sequenced up with nowhere to go. I will further argue that despite this, genomics is one of the most interesting current areas of computer science and engineering, and is likely to be the latest wellspring for new innovations across the stack from architecture to AI.


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