Device familiarity matters when it comes to digital health effectiveness

Man typing on laptop at desk

According to a recent Scripps Translational Science Institute research study, there is little evidence digital medicine helps cut healthcare costs or spurs consumers to be more interested in their healthcare.

Chilmark analyst Naveen Rao quickly responded to the study, citing weaknesses in the research approach, claiming there were major design flaws and that the research produced low-value data.

The feedback is accurate and raises some salient points, perhaps none more critical than that participants were asked to use a new device, not their own smartphone.

That point tied directly into thoughts shared by the researchers about user habits:

"Whether or not a patient has improved health as a result such monitoring likely depends on the behavior of the individual and the technology itself," the researchers said. "Motivated individuals using an informative device which captures actionable data are likely to see improvements, while unmotivated individuals using devices which capture meaningless or nonactionable information will see no benefit."

Mobile health's value and beneficial premise are very much tied to user engagement. Without that, there is no value in a device, an app or the data collected, as those are typically sporadic and inconsistent.

But commitment and engagement cannot be measured accurately if familiarity with a device is not present. Individuals are far less likely to be motivated if they aren't, as Rao said, "seamlessly" connected.

I am confident that digital tools can be effective in helping to both pique the interest of consumers in their own care and improve care efforts, overall. Research like the Scripps study, however, shows that it won't be an overnight process. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)