Fundamentals of UX Design for eHealth Applications

Estimated at $14 billion in 2015, the mobile health solutions market is predicted to reach $60 billion by 2020. As part of eHealth agenda, telemedicine is a rapidly expanding market, the value of which is expected to reach $27.3 billion in 2016 and $52.3 billion by 2022. Mobile healthcare apps (mHealth apps) have become widespread in various branches of healthcare, especially in the field of chronic disease management. Top factors of market growth are the increasing use of connected devices like activity trackers, scales, blood pressure monitors and blood glucose meters; growing implementation of smart gadgets; and rapid development of mHealth apps – especially apps for primary care and hospital management. Widespread adoption of mobile health is also due to demand for convenient, patient-centric care, and for affordable treatment options in response to rising healthcare costs.

As mHealth expands its reach, the competition between mobile health apps increases. It is necessary to be able to determine effective apps from ineffective apps. While User Experience (UX) is a crucial factor for all applications, it is especially so for mHealth because individual health is an incredibly personal, incredibly sensitive topic.

HealthTap, a California-based mHealth company, recently published a list naming their top 10 mHealth apps for iOS and Android. The apps are judged based on three characteristics:

These characteristics are important, no doubt. However, they are not the only guidelines for determining the foundation of effective UX design for mHealth apps. Functionality, security, and input are also necessary to meet user expectations.

User Expectations

According to a report summary published by Accenture, the top three features patients want most in an mHealth app are:

However, only 11% of health systems offer proprietary apps providing at least one of these top three consumer demands.

The solution to this problem is to create a system for implementing user input throughout - and beyond - the app development process:

Functionality and usability

Once user expectations are known, specific functionality and usability features can be determined. Like any app, mobile health apps need to stand out from other competing apps in the market and “stick” with the user. At the same time, mHealth apps need to be comprehensible because health can be an unpleasant, confusing, or scary subject for many users.

Data visualization is an effective strategy for improving usability. Health care is notoriously difficult to navigate, but mHealth can be part of the solution by implementing design features that simplify the process:

Specific functionality features vary widely depending on an app’s specific objectives. Still, there are some core principles to keep in mind:

Security

There is no doubt that mHealth improves workflow efficiency. For example, medical devices and wearables for diabetes (such as insulin pumps) connect to mobile apps, allowing users to keep track of their vital signs without having to visit the doctor unless there is an anomaly. However, security is an ongoing issue in and a major threat to Telemedicine. In mHealth, IoT integration adds additional risk because wearables and connected medical devices (e.g., continuous blood glucose monitors and blood pressure cuffs) are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Their vulnerability stems from the fact that data typically travels from connected devices, across unlicensed wireless links, to a monitoring hub in a user’s home, to the broadband network and finally to the cloud. During this process, a breach can occur at several points.

One example of a successful cybersecurity system is the mHealth app VideoMedicine. In addition to meeting HIPAA compliance standards, VideoMedicine owns 100% of their technology instead of leasing video software from a third party, like Skype or Facetime, which cannot guarantee secure data transmission. All data is encrypted with a double layer to protect patients’ PHI. In addition, VideoMedicine provides the option for users to remain anonymous when seeking mental health advice, protecting their name, gender, age, and identity.

Wrapping up, in order to have a proper UX design, mobile health apps should keep the balance between functionality and usability, be tested, validated and optimized in each stage of software development, use stellar data visualization and have security layers embedded in UI design from the very beginning.

And what’s your take on this?

This article was originally published in Feb/Mar edition of the Journal of mHealth.

Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other e-zines.

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