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Patient Involvement – The Secret to High-Engagement Health Apps

Designing a health app is so much more challenging than designing any other app. An app that aims to serve as a personal health assistant, monitor, and advisor, holds in many ways, a responsibility just as high as the doctor does.

With the advancing technology, health apps for patients and caregivers have become an intrinsic part of the healthcare delivery process. These apps give patients increased control over their own health, by allowing them to track vital symptoms and understand what they mean, track physical activity and nutrition, manage a personal condition, schedule appointments and adhere to medicine schedules.

Current State of Health Apps

There is no shortage of healthcare apps out there. Too many apps start off with the aim to become a constant source of information and assistance to those suffering from a medical condition. However, they seldom see any calculable adoption or engagement. On an average, health apps have a retention rate of only 27% to 30% over a period of 90 days.

Something is clearly amiss here, as the demand for quality health apps among the patient community is ample. According to the 2015 Makovsky/Kelton ‘Pulse of Online Health” Survey, 66% Americans would use a mobile app to manage health issues. Moreover, 79% of patients said they’d be willing to use a wearable device to track and monitor their health and activity.

If the patients want it, and the developers are making it, then why is engagement so low?

 

Patients Must Be at the Center of the Design Process

One major reason why health apps aren’t able to deliver the results they set out to is because they don’t know the ground reality of what actual patients want the app to do. Developers are more interested in a clever technology they developed or a feature they think will help patients. Their hypothesis need not always be accurate though. Actually developing a product that truly aligns with patient needs requires active participation of patients in the development process.

A wide scope survey that spans thousands of patients and gathers figurative data about what patients would like their app to do is one step. Another crucial step is to connect with a selection of patients or patient leaders, on a personal level, gain a much closer perspective of their lifestyles, routines and preferences to design apps that are more personalized and adapt to their individual needs.

 

Some of the Top Features Patients Want in Health Apps

Apart from tracking calories consumed and burned, heart rate, blood pressure and activity levels, which are the most common indicators, here are some of the key features patients would like their health apps to do –

  • Track symptoms and inform patients about the tests needed to be taken
  • Track test results such as blood pressure, temperature, sleep quality, appetite
  • Track health triggers such as flare ups, allergic reactions and identify patterns
  • Organizes test results and health records for easy sharing with all concerned doctors, nurses and experts
  • Track medication adherence, send timely reminders and inform about drug interactions to safely avoid them
  • Facilitate communication with peers, support groups and others suffering from the same condition
  • Facilitate communication and consultation from a certified, licensed clinician when needed
  • Easy to use and enter data
  • Recognized and recommended by the patient’s doctor

In addition to these, patients with specific conditions require specific features. Patients of diabetes and hypoglycemia need timely reminders to eat something. Mental health patients need immediate and expert support when they are feeling unsafe.

Finding and locating the best doctors and local specialists is another growing area of interest. With the growing number of doctors, choosing the one most suitable for them is becoming harder for the patients. Apps like Practo that help find doctors, view their credentials, compare, and book appointments are greatly beneficial to patients.

 

Some Areas Where Popular Health Apps Are Lacking

Despite a fairly concerted effort, most health apps are lacking some seemingly basic qualities and other specialized ones. Some of the areas that must be improved to serve patients better are –

 

Increased Personalization

One of the most frequently observed shortcomings found in health apps is the lack of personalization. For instance, if a medication adherence app sends a reminder every morning, that reminder usually gets ignored in the hustle-bustle of morning chores. If the reminder comes at breakfast time however, it is more likely to actually help the patient. Apps must use active, patient aided scheduling and Artificial Intelligence to track individual patient’s lifestyles and understand their routines, habits, and preferences. That is when they will be able to truly make a difference.

Dependable Advice from Authorized Sources

Every patient needs highly personalized information and advice about how to manage their condition better, and this information must come from a credible source like a doctor or a health expert. Many apps are found lacking in this area. Either there is no advice or there is no credibility to it.

Data Security

Since these apps collect sensitive patient records and data, highly secure handling of this data is paramount. The Becker Hospital Review found that only two-thirds of surveyed health apps had a written privacy policy.

Responsiveness

While most apps allow patients to enter information about their daily health, symptoms and mood signals, very limited number of them go on to suggest a proper course of action thereafter. In many cases, it has been found that mental health apps have no response mechanism even when patients entered critical information like severely high blood pressure or suicidal thoughts.

Patient Safety

Since health is such a sensitive subject and a patient’s life can be on the line, apps must ensure exceedingly high levels of function to ensure product safety. Symptom evaluators, activity trackers, blood pressure and glucose level monitors must be absolutely on point.  One small fail can lead the patient to the emergency room.

 

The Solution – Increased Patient Involvement

Developers and designers must adopt a more collaborative approach while designing health apps. Since it is impossible to reach out to every patient, getting in touch with Patient Leaders can be a good way to gain nuanced insights into patient behaviors and preferences at all levels of app development so that the final product is a conglomeration of cutting edge technology, medical expertise, and patient participation.

Better yet, the WEGO Health Experts platform enables health companies of all types to connect with and hire freelance Patient Experts for collaborative design projects. There’s an entire network on-demand with the professional background and patient experience ready to provide their expertise to designing health apps that may successfully adopt in the market.


Millie Rainer loves to share her thoughts and insights on health, fitness, lifestyle, and business. She is very extremely enthusiastic about outdoor activities like hiking and trekking. When in leisure time, she prefers to spend time in traveling with friends and family. You can find her on Twitter here @millierainer.

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