A human approach to designing successful mHealth applications. -
mHealth design
mHealth, health apps, digital behaviour
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A human approach to designing successful mHealth applications.

Here is a burning question – Why is it that despite the plethora of apps now available, some abandonment statistics suggest that 90% of health apps are deleted or not used again after 10 days?

Certainly more efficacy data is needed, but why with such a vast number of digital health solutions are engagement trends so poor?

Where does the problem lie, is it because many of these solutions are designed to just collect, store and relay information back to users. Have they been designed to help a patient directly? Or are they in fact a hindrance or an electronic reminder of their disease.

We also can’t forget that we are emotional creatures, not robots. This means we are motivated by something other than data, we find it hard to form new routines and are just plain forgetful.

Failing to appreciate this, results in many health and wellness mHealth apps suffering from very short life spans, with engagement disintegrating soon after the novelty wears off.

Principles of designing for engagement

  1. Get to know your users as people. Understand them, before you design anything. Take time to truly understand the real-life problems that come with living with a condition. Its vitally important to take into account patient values and preferences and the context in which they live their lives. If an application does not solve a real problem for the patient it will not be adopted.
  2. Write app’s messages so that they are truly meaningful to users. Take time to analyse the language people use to describe their condition. Language has the power to persuade, change or reinforce beliefs but it is sometimes overlooked when developing content and designing user interfaces.
  3. Define target behaviours. What do you want your users to do? The answer must be concise and small. Dr BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Grid is a great tool to use. It guides you to type a behavior according to familiarity, frequency, intensity, and duration.
  4. Create action triggers. A trigger is anything that tells a user to “do it now.” Triggers are broken down in the Hook Model into External and Internal triggers. An external trigger is something – an alarm, e-mail, item, a person – that a user physically interacts with. An internal trigger – a feeling, thought, memory – is inside a user’s head. Understanding how a behaviour can be triggered is critical for user engagement.
  5. Enable behavioral practice. If you want users to act more than once, then you need to identify ways to reinforce and reward for repetition this will hopefully open the door to habit formation. Find ways to reward use in the short-term — without patronizing users. Be cautious about assuming “gamification” is the answer to turning anything from a chore to fun. Instead, determine whether and just what challenges and rewards truly keep your users engaged beyond any initial novelty.
  6. Experiment. All of this needs to happen with ongoing user research and testing. Experiments are needed to know what works and what doesn’t, so validate your decisions by testing with your users.

Designing an engaging app doesn’t happen by magic. The most successful health apps are built on a deep understanding of the real problems that come with living with a disease or condition, and offer something that genuinely helps.  If we fail to recognise the reality of patients’ lives many more digital health initiatives will fail to be accepted and used.

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