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Patients and physicians: How to boost adoption in digital health

To drive adoption, digital health application design requires consideration of two distinct user groups: patients and the physicians who serve them.

Physicians need to know why a specific solution is the correct tool to unlock improved patient outcomes, and patients must understand its function so they’ll commit to using it.

Today, I’ll explain how designing for both the patient and physician can help boost adoption rates, contribute to better health outcomes, and cut global healthcare costs by up to $3 trillion by 2030, according to a McKinsey Global Institute estimate.

Start with the ‘patient problem’

Even the most miraculous digital health technology can’t improve outcomes if the patient isn’t actually using it. But driving adoption is a challenge. Despite a well-documented rise of digital health and telehealth capabilities, the 2021 Accenture Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey found that mobile app use decreased significantly during the pandemic.

That’s likely because those apps didn’t meet people’s needs or make their lives better. And if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that they were developed without consulting people who would be using them. Starting each project with research and user testing helps us build empathy around user behaviors: not just what they do, but why they do it. Only when we understand that can we understand what to build.

Here’s an example. We were tasked with building a mobile app for Theragen, a wearable medical device company that developed a non-invasive stimulator to increase spine fusion surgery success rates. These types of devices often suffered from low usability (usability is key to improving outcomes), and our user research determined patients couldn’t clearly see progress over the long six-to-nine months of therapy.

A Theragen ActaStim smartphone app displaying medical device usage and corresponding pain levels

The Theragen ActaStim app lets patients track pain levels through their therapy. [Image courtesy of Theragen]

So we developed a streamlined interface for their mobile application that allowed patients to track usage and activity while monitoring their pain levels over time. With better visibility into their own recovery, it became easier for patients to recognize the benefits of the therapy over time, which increased adoption rates.

Opportunity lives in the gap between what patients want or need and what currently exists. By starting the development process with an understanding of the patient, you can map toward meeting that opportunity.

Assist physicians with improving patient outcomes

A physician’s primary goal is helping their patients achieve successful care outcomes quickly and at the lowest cost to the provider. That’s why telehealth has taken off since the onset of the pandemic — virtual visits let physicians see 50 to 175 times more patients than they could in person.

If you can show physicians that your digital health solution will help them treat patients in a quicker, easier, and more cost-effective manner, you’ll be the logical choice when they’re prescribing treatment.

And remember, patient and doctor pain points are often intertwined. For example, take the lack of data visibility in our example with Theragen from earlier. The ensuing application helped patients track their pain and activity on their mobile devices, and it also enabled sharing of that data with their physicians.

Paired with increased device usability and new levels of insight into patient recovery, physicians can create personalized, data-backed care plans to further accelerate and improve patient outcomes.

Embrace the software experience as a key differentiator

Medtech companies have traditionally focused on developing hardware like diagnostic equipment, pacemakers and infusion pumps. But hardware advancements can only go so far, and as a result, many medical devices are near-identical across competing firms.

Software, along with its data collection and analysis capabilities, will become the true differentiator between the digital health companies of the future. Digital health companies need to work with physicians and patients to understand the information they need, capture it, and present it in an actionable way while providing a streamlined experience.

By staying laser-focused on addressing patient and physician pain points, digital health companies can build accompanying software that sets their devices apart from the competition.

That said, avoid the temptation to pack digital health applications with a bevy of bells and whistles that don’t tie directly to user research. Unnecessary features can frustrate patients, especially the majority of people aged 50 to 80 who have never used a health app, and cause them to quit. This hurts adoption rates and undermines the user research at the core of your digital health solution.

Recognize the commonalities between user needs

Patients and doctors want the same thing: user-friendly tech that helps patients achieve better health outcomes.

By recognizing the common objectives between the two user groups and crafting the software that helps achieve them, digital health firms can boost adoption rates and empower the best possible medical care.

A portrait of Rex Chekal, a principal product designer at TXI

Rex Chekal is a principal product designer at TXI. [Photo courtesy of TXI]

Published by TXI News in Digital Health