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All by Myself: the Lady Business vending system

All By Myself: The Lady Business Vending System

“All by Myself” is the final poster for my graduate thesis presentation.

Women loathe the invasion of privacy, long waits and bureaucracy that come with conventional health care delivery. Lady Business is a public restroom vending machine that allows a woman to take care of her female health care needs without requiring face-to-face interactions.

She’s the Boss

First I address the challenges women face in obtaining health care, uncovered through interviews and research with 17 women and 6 medical professionals.

Challenge: access

Getting your hands on female health care products can require jumping some hurdles. The Lady Business vending machine puts many self-care tools within women’s reach. Women don’t always have a caring doctor on speed dial, and see making appointments as a burden. Gaps in health insurance coverage also keep women away from clinics and pharmacies for fear of high prices. Women are interested in affordable self-tests and self-treatment so that they can avoid the hassle of dealing with the medical world. Women are also interested in self-care on the go, and asked for mundane products such as underwear and deodorant.

Women say, “Don’t make me go to the doctor” 

“I hate having to go somewhere every month to get birth control. Because that’s what prevents me from doing it.”

“I don’t want to go to the doctor to find out or have to ask ten people, do I have a yeast infection?”

“I don’t want to go to the doctor if I just have a “feeling” something is wrong.”

“I chose antibiotics and urine test strips because I get UTIs sometimes and I don’t want to go to the doctor every time.”

Challenge: time

Using a vending machine simply saves time. Public restrooms at school or work are always open and don’t require a long journey or an appointment. Making phone calls, setting appointments, waiting for exams and prescriptions, driving from place to place are all time-consuming parts of the process that offer the woman little value. Women would rather spend their time getting results and information about their health.

Women say, “I need it right away”

“I want a little shot of water to take the pills, so everything’s in the stall.”

“I’d want to buy emergency contraception and take it right now.

“UTI and yeast infection tests will help me figure out rather than speculate.

“More directions and explaining things better. Simple language. Less medical terms.”

Challenge:  shame 

Women want to take care of themselves without the judgement of others. Stigmas and taboos around female sexuality make many health care transactions so embarrassing, women area them or avoid them all together. Health care providers can’t assist women who don’t come in, and women end up with unplanned pregnancies, untreated infections, or just preventable problems. The vending system is designed to be used without forcing women to face anyone else – no asking, no permission, no shame.

Women say, “Help me hide”

“The bathrooms is private. It’s a good place to pull yourself together and contemplate.”

“I’m to embarrassed to pick up condoms, pregnancy tests or Plan B at a pharmacy”

“Maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t like the sales person knowing my sex life.”

“The self-care kit has to be hideable.”

“I need the packaging to stick in the waistband of my clothes. What if I ran into my boss?”

Why should the vending machine include free products?

Women say, “Free means somebody cares”

“It makes you feel supported to have feminine products available for free”

“Maybe free every once in a while? I always feel such goodwill when they are free on campus.”

“Condoms should be free on campus already, like Free Condom Friday!”

Yes She Can

Vending machine:

Women do not want to be seen buying products, so the vending machine is designed to be used quickly and to keep others from knowing what she buys. The machine is triangle-shaped to fit in the corner of a public restroom, instead of hanging on a flat wall. The woman naturally blocks the narrow front of the vending machine with her body while she’s using it, protecting her transaction from curious eyes. She selects products from a dedicated keypad, instead of pushing buttons close to the products, so it’s less easy to identify what she buys from her gestures. The waist-high dispenser means she can easily slip the product into a pocket or purse without having it be exposed. Swiping a credit card or university ID for payment is less fussy than inserting bills and coins, and allows women to buy higher priced items without worrying about correct change.

Product selection:

Women identified several types of products they’d like to buy from vending machines in public restrooms. Top concerns include treating diagnosing and treating common infections, using contraception, caring for periods, keeping clean and pain relief. Women asked for a mix of medical and convenience items. While most items are available at pharmacies or convenience stores, the process of purchasing them involves a special trip to the store and a face-to-face interaction with a cashier. Women were more interested in products that cater to urgent situations (feeling ill, getting a period, preparing for sex) than long-term use products (pack of birth control pills, antibiotics).

Package design:

Women don’t want to be seen using the products they buy. Lady Business purchases are designed to be used in the restroom stall. Women even admitted they’d rather swallow pills without water while in a stall than go stand at the sink with the package. They don’t want anyone to see the package on the floor, so packages are small enough to be unfolded and used in the lap. Products are adhered to the package with glue so nothing falls out when you open it. Packages designed to be mailed away for lab tests turn inside out to become an overnight envelope.

Self-care kits:

Many health situations women face involve a lot of time wasted spent waiting on others to provide a service. Ironically, the technology used to diagnose and treat many infections is simple enough for a woman to do it herself. In research sessions, women expressed interest in kits to help them deal with urinary tract infections, yeast infections, sex, pregnancy and periods. Believe it or not, women can take urine, saliva, and even blood samples, swallow pills, and apply creams with the best of them.

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