Engage users for mobile healthcare app success

hands coffee smartphone
Designing apps to be convenient for users rather than researchers makes them more likely to succeed.

Designing a successful healthcare app requires more than a problem to solve and a programming team.

Joseph Kvedar
Joe Kvedar

In practice, while it may seem like everybody loves apps, users really love only a relatively small number of apps that engage them and keep them engaged, write Simone Orlowski, Ph.D., Scott Covington Newland, M.Des., and Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., all of Partners HealthCare, in NEJM Catalyst.

Making an engaging healthcare app raises the level of difficulty further, because healthcare researchers are so used to solving problems via the scientific method, the authors write.

That can make for a less-engaging app than something designed to make lives easier for a range of users whose needs and motivations can differ widely.

Indeed, among the most successful mobile healthcare apps covered by FierceHealthcare, convenience appears to drive uptake more than any other trait.

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Since people use their phones every day to perform a wide variety of tasks, it makes sense to engage with those technologies to create efficiencies for users, or even to contemplate a redesign of a complicated user interface like the electronic health record so that it behaves more like a smartphone.

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The basic premise behind designing an engaging healthcare app involves thinking about those who will use the technology, and building a tool they can use and trust in common situations, according to the NEJM piece. 

Development teams frequently wind up designing based on the needs of researchers who will use the data collected by the app, rather than the users who will interact with it on a daily basis. 

To avoid that mistake, Partners uses what it calls a “Human-Centered Design” process, which can mean a complex, non-linear design process that balances the many factors necessary to produce something that can be useful in the greatest number of use cases.

“All the stakeholders who contribute to the issue, as well as those participating in the solution, need to be identified and successfully engaged,” the authors write.