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Design digital health products with data as a feature core to the user experience

Digital health solutions ingest and generate enormous amounts of data. Some products, like Renalis Health’s chatbot CeCe Lite, facilitate an interactive experience. Others, like Theragen’s ActaStim-S, are wearable devices with connected apps that passively collect biometric data.

It’s easy for digital health solution creators to view the datasets these digital health products produce as simple tools for understanding user behavior. And it’s even easier to let this wealth of information waste away in the background.

Treating data as a core feature, however, can make iterating on the app easier and improve its functionality for users, ultimately extending the product’s lifecycle.

In this piece, I’ll look at how and why to design digital health products with data as a feature core to the user’s experience.

Data visualizations that show user progress incentivize adherence

App designers often think of data as an end. Sure, data can inform new features. And it may power user incentives (regularly buy ibuprofen at the pharmacy, and soon enough a coupon for ibuprofen will print out with your receipt).

But data can also function as a feature that incentivizes adherence to a digital health app.

The work TXI did for Theragen focused on a particularly complex issue. When post-surgical spinal fusion patients used Theragen’s product, ActaStim-S, to stimulate bone growth, data showed patients were quick to engage with the product. That offered good news for both providers and their patients.

Beyond being painful, post-operative recovery is often slow, with pain lessening a little at a time. And since humans have only a short-term memory of pain, patients tend to experience what hurts now rather than reflect on the benefits of slow progress.

Data helped us address this problem. TXI included a pain log in the mobile health app developed for use with the ActaStim-S. Using this log, patients tracked their pain over time through regular journal entries. That data was then displayed back to patients in graphs representing device adherence rates, activity levels, and pain experienced each day.

Putting data up front as a feature patients could see wasn’t just a means of incentivizing them to use ActaStim-S. Actively inputting their data also gave patients an opportunity to be invested in their care. And seeing that data displayed back to them offered patients a deeper understanding of their recovery process.

Learn to consistently innovate, embrace a new mindset and advance the patient and practitioner experience.

Data can neutralize emotionally charged healthcare experiences

Undergoing healthcare can be an emotional experience. It’s important for digital health solutions to acknowledge this reality.

The work TXI did with Renalis Health offers an interesting example of how data can help. We were asked to build a tool to help deliver behavioral therapy to patients with overactive bladder (OAB) symptoms. And as we did during our work with Theragen, TXI realized user data was a potential key to features that could address our client’s problem.

But our work with Renalis Health offered a new challenge. Though pelvic health patients may not be in physical pain, they often find their condition emotionally excruciating. They may believe they’re suffering from something shameful. Even when the reality is more than one third of patients experience incontinence after giving birth.

TXI realized that if patients could see their experiences were shared by others, they’d be less likely to feel negatively about those experiences and the treatments to address them. This, in turn, could increase adherence.

Again, we developed an app that currently uses a diary to collect patient data and a chatbot to communicate. But rather than just using a patient’s data to display their individual progress over time, we could aggregate anonymized datasets that displayed cause and effect information about incontinence.

Future features might leverage this idea to ease patients’ minds.

If a patient drank an irritant like caffeine, for example, they might have a leak. Then, if they logged that experience into their diary, such a feature could return stats about how many other people (say, X percent of caffeine drinkers within X minutes of consuming the drink) experience the same issue.

Knowing they’re not alone can help patients feel more comfortable seeking treatment. And patients who feel emotionally well are more likely to continue the treatments they’re prescribed.

Data extends your product’s lifetime

We’ve looked at how data can be used as a feature central to an end user’s experience. But designing a digital health product that includes data as a feature core to the design process and the user experience can extend that product’s lifetime.

To help promote an extended life for your product in the market, think about how data is going to inform its evolution from day one. Think toward…

  • The development of user profiles. How a patient interacts with an app will be impacted by factors such as healing and education over time. Data can help you continue to meet patients where they’re at, increasing the likelihood that they’ll continue to value your product as their profiles change.

  • Technological advancements. While we can’t foresee every advancement, we do know technology is dynamic. Tracking data on how patients use your product can help you determine which features help you define your innovation roadmap.

  • New treatments. As surgical techniques are refined and new medicines come to market, you’ll want your product to adapt. Collecting data about concurrent therapies, or integrating with EHR systems, can help teams continue to innovate along with the evolution of medicine.

The result: a robust digital product that promotes patient health now and in the future.

Data helps you chart and stay on the right course

Product innovation is a value system that balances the needs of all stakeholders. For digital health products, user desirability, technological feasibility, and business viability must all be treated equally.

In the best case, data is more than the tide that floats all boats. It’s the current that carries your product forward by making it more desiwrable to end users, more technologically feasible, and more valuable to the business’s bottom line.

Curious about how to get there? Get in touch. I’d love to help you see the possibilities for your data.

Published by Rex Chekal in Design

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