Most of the attendees of the recent mHealth Summit would agree that mobile health is poised for success. Enthusiasm from business, technology, and clinical sectors was palpable. I believe human factor considerations will be critical for the success of mHealth, and will discuss some of them.
1. Usability/Workflow issues: A technology may be sophisticated and streamlined, yet not easily usable. Why? Because clinical workflow is not optimized. Does the technology require the input of data? If so, can this be accomplished by someone who is blind or illiterate? Does it require a smartphone or PC? Does the patient need to monitor the data? Are alerts presented in visual, vibratory, auditory or all of these modalities? Is the product easy to use in concert with others that the patient with a chronic disease may be using? Workflow of the provider is also important. Will the data be pushed to the provider or easily to the EHR without being notified? Will it go to an insurer’s patient portal as well?Are alerts actionable only? Will the technology add or subtract from the provider’s workload?
2. Education: For any mHealth technology to be successful, the user needs to be educated about health, wellness, and the specific disease entity targeted by the product. This lays the foundation for recognizing the potential benefits, thereby increasing motivation. This education may itself be delivered via some excellent mHealth programs prescribed by providers. Education accomplishes multiple goals. It defines the problem or objective targeted by the technology. It fosters a proactive attitude. It decreases anxiety. It makes for a better patient-provider relationship.
3. It must consider the caregiver. If one obstacle of adoption is the lack of smartphone technology or the desire to move into the technology world by older patients (though baby boomers are less likely to fall into this category), then designing mHealth products taking into consideration the caregiver is the solution. This will improve adherence to medications and care instructions, improve the quality of provider visits, and decrease anxiety and logistical problems of the caregiver. There is no better healthcare coach than a trusted family member or friend.
4. There must be incentives. What the form the incentive takes may vary and should be ideally personalized. Incentives motivating a teenager with diabetes will differ from those of an elderly person with congestive heart failure. Incentives may be targeted to the caregiver as well. Gaming techniques have been shown to be effective, making the product fun. There may be financial incentives brought by the payer. A choice of incentives may be presented.
5. Behavioral changes are required to sustain engagement. Incentives will get people to adopt the technology but may not be enough to sustain engagement. This is something I believe will happen with a societal attitude adjustment. People need to know that they are the ones most responsible for their healthcare, no the provider. Creating patient-centric thinking both cuts the false strands of provider-dependent emotional umbilical cord and promotes more fluid, less disjointed care. The patient is monitoring health and wellness continuously, not going to the provider with the same anxiety of a child being called into the prinicipal’s office. Instead of putting the salt and calorie contents of products on labels at McDonald’s, the demand for these harmful products will decline and the marketplace will determine regulation, not the government.
Above all, designers and marketers of mHealth technologies, whether from small startups or large telecom companies need to first and foremost consider the human aspects of technology. For without them, these tools will not reach their potential benefits.