By PARV SONDHI
As the digital health world continues to expand, more and more people are turning to apps to manage everything from diabetes and obesity to depression and anxiety. People rely on these apps for their physical and mental health, so it’s crucial that product developers ensure a safe, effective, and engaging experience for them. Healthcare experts agree.
A team of researchers and health system leaders recently introduced a new framework called “Evidence DEFINED” for evaluating digital health products. This framework offers hospitals, payers, and trade organizations a precise set of guidelines to assess the validity and safety of a digital health product. It also gives digital health companies good benchmarks to work from.
As digital health companies create new products in the space, they should keep specific points in mind — from user experience design to considerations for data privacy. While clinical outcomes will always reign supreme, the framework suggests that patient experience, provider experience, product design, and cost effectiveness can’t be discounted.
Here are a few critical considerations that product delivery teams should plan for when creating digital health apps.
First things first: a user won’t use an app that’s hard to navigate. To help people stick to their health goals, developers need to create apps that are intuitive and easy-to-use. When a user logs onto an app, they want to find the content they need immediately and be guided through the experience step by step.
A lot of different people use health apps, and not all of them are tech-savvy. Health apps need to be accessible to all demographics, including people of various ages who speak different languages. It’s also important to remember that digital health apps can be used across multiple platforms, so the navigation should remain clear when switching between devices.
While navigation might seem like a no-brainer, it’s often overlooked when designing for digital health.
But clear navigation benefits the app as a whole since it can help reduce the time users spend searching for what they need and increase overall engagement.
Simple user interface
Digital health apps need to have a simple, straightforward design so that users can use the product to do what they came to do: work on achieving their health goals. For example, all user interface elements should be visible simultaneously, and interactive elements should be easily recognizable as buttons, tabs, or links. Additionally, task completion instructions should be clearly explained and simple enough for users at a fifth-grade reading level to understand.
The goal should be to create an app that allows users to focus on their health needs without getting bogged down by complex features or design elements. After all, the app aims to help users in their journey to better health, not to be a distraction.
Giving users the ability to create a customized experience within the app can help keep them engaged over time. This could involve allowing users to customize their dashboard with widgets, change the color scheme or background of the app and tailor their interactions.
In addition, consider enabling users to set up personalized reminders for activities such as taking medication, logging their moods, or completing specific tasks.
Depending on the specifics of the app, users should also be able to access and update their personal information, such as contact details, health history, etc. This ensures all data is accurate and up-to-date.
An intuitive app gets the user started, but to keep them coming back you need positive reinforcement. A well-designed app should make achieving health goals easy and even pleasant, helping users through each step and celebrating their wins.
Developers can create apps that send users encouraging messages when they complete tasks, or awards users points or badges when they reach milestones. These things might seem small, but they can motivate users to keep using the app regularly and inspire confidence in their ability to take control of their mental health.
This might seem like an added expense or extra effort, but it goes a long way in improving user experience and engagement — which helps define whether or not an app succeeds in the digital health space.
Access to support
Integrating support in the app helps users feel like there’s always someone to turn to and provides an added layer of safety. Consider adding a feature that quickly connects users to the necessary support services in their broader health network, whether in the form of an in-app 24/7 chat or email.
It’s also helpful to provide FAQs and community support articles to allow users to opt for a self-service option. And, as always, make sure to enable robust privacy settings so users can control who they speak with and what information they share.
People who use digital health apps want an action plan, but they also want to educate themselves on their health issues. Providing an education section engages users on issues that are important to them, enhancing their experience and encouraging them to keep using the app. Plus, it’s a great way to distinguish your app from others.
You can also display educational content to users as they go, offering definitions, or statistics, or links to research that they can access as they move through the stages of the program, as well as a separate education section that users can explore more on their own time.
Designing with this relevant and actionable content in mind can enhance user experience and motivate users to stick to their health goals and continue to use the app.
Gamification is a tool that encourages users to achieve their health goals by visualizing their progress and rewarding their persistence. Developers can use devices like leaderboards to show how a user is performing compared to other users, or streak trackers to encourage users to keep moving. Finally, developers can allow users to unlock achievements when they pass certain markers, rewarding them for their hard work.
By making health-related activities more fun and interactive, users are more likely to stick with them in the long run – which can positively impact their health. Gamifying the app experience can also help keep users engaged, motivated, and connected, creating a more positive user experience.
While we’ve been talking about the digital experience, sometimes, one of the most vital pieces of the experience is the human in the loop. Teams can provide that experience by bringing in health coaches, dietitians, or therapists who can offer support right from the app. These experts engage users far more than a basic app can, and experts can offer tailored support and care for the user’s progress and suggest improvements to the member’s care plan.
Giving users access to this in-app can help them feel supported and encourage them to move the needle on their health goals and keep returning to the app.
As frameworks like Evidence DEFINED become more widely shared and developed, companies creating digital health products should consider not only whether the product is evidence-based and suitable for adoption, but also the user experience for their products.
When designing apps for digital health, it’s essential to create an experience tailored to users’ individual needs. By taking the time to understand user needs and preferences and integrating these considerations into an app’s design, developers can create products that are both accessible and effective for those struggling with health issues. With the right approach, such apps can be valuable resources in helping people manage their health and lead more fulfilling lives.
Parv Sondhi is a Group Product Manager at Vida Health