Open Source Wellness Recap

Design Museum LIVE • May 2020

By Sabaat Kareem

May’s Design Museum LIVE explored our national health care system with Open Source Wellness founders Dr. Elizabeth Markle and Dr. Ben Emmert-Aronson, two psychologists. Open Source Wellness is a radical reinvention of our healthcare system that is working to provide prescription behavioral practices. The project launched after Elizabeth and Ben observed that their patients were often instructed to change their lifestyles without receiving a structured plan to help them change. The pair noted that doctors frequently give the following advice: get more exercise, decrease stress, eat healthier, and surround yourself with social relationships. Open Source Wellness, through what they call their “behavioral pharmacy,” provides training, peer support, and activities that help people take their doctor’s advice. 

Elizabeth and Ben began the event by giving us a description of what one of their sessions looks like. The Open Source Wellness sessions are trans-diagnostic, meaning they bring together rather than separate people with different diagnoses. Each patient gets a health coach to help them begin their process. They then sign up for weekly, two-hour sessions, which are supplemented with frequent communication with their session group. Each session consists of group physical activity, stress reduction practices, a mini lesson on healthy lifestyles, and, finally, a group meal full of healthy foods and good conversation. The sessions, while structured, are oriented toward having fun and feeling free. The goal is to make people feel comfortable and supported while moving their bodies and reflecting. 

In a video shown by Elizabeth and Ben, patients of Open Source Wellness reported improvements after attending sessions. The sessions have helped patients feel lighter, freer, and happier, while providing everyone with a community of peers to lean on. The connectivity and accessibility aspects of Open Source Wellness are of utmost importance to Elizabeth and Ben. They make sure to hold their events in existing, easily reachable structures, and have taken caution to stay away from the potentially harmful, glamorized elements of meditation and self care. Open Source Wellness, while still in experimental mode, hopes to be fully funded by insurance, similar to some prescription medications and procedures. They are currently partnered with a local Bay Area insurance company to test their practices before expanding. 

During quarantine, like many organizations, Open Source Wellness’ practices have become increasingly experimental. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the Open Source Wellness sessions were centered on physical togetherness. Now, the organization continues to emphasize the importance of connectivity through virtual sessions. Elizabeth and Ben report that digital sessions have led to increased involvement and accessibility. Patients who were otherwise unable to make it to in-person sessions are now able to participate, making the project stronger than ever. Participation and connectivity are still primary concerns during this digital wave. Going forward, Open Source Wellness hopes to be an example of how the boundaries of healthcare and medical treatments can be redesigned.