The number of apps that fall under the mobile health umbrella seems to be increasing at an epidemic rate. This hype, which in many respects is well-deserved, can cause players in the health industry to hastily release products that do not take into account the needs of their end users.
This is the first in a series of posts about the intersection of mobile, health and technology. Today we will discuss focusing on health first before thinking about mobile (or other digital solutions) when designing products and services in the health care space. I’ll explain more about this later. First, let’s talk about mHealth.
Why mHealth is so hot right now
Technology, long used to extend human potential, has always had close ties to the medical field. It makes sense that as humans become more closely tethered to technologies such as smartphones and wearable devices that the public and private sectors search for ways these devices can enable more productive outcomes for stakeholders, patients and caregivers.
There is also enormous financial opportunity in the health/tech space. The U.S. health industry’s annual revenue is more than $1.6 trillion, and the federal government spends more than $900 billion annually on health care. Understandably, the private and public sectors are hustling to find new ways to make and save money.
Additionally, mobile technology is often an appropriate solution to many problems found in health care, because it’s, well, mobile. The mobility and accessibility of smartphones and tablets render them well-suited to make experiences more efficient, enjoyable and intuitive, for patients, caregivers and providers.
The problem with focusing on mobile first
In thinking about the potential of mobile technology as it relates to health, it’s tempting to create requirements for products by starting with a solution instead of a need. Kim Godwin, Vice President of PatientsLikeMe, talks about this in her book Designing For The Digital Age. A mobile app is a solution.
Remembering to walk more and feeling motivated to walk are needs that can be addressed through a mobile app. This may seem like a minor distinction, however jumping to designing a solution before gaining empathy for the user and a deep understanding of the problem can result in the launch of a digital product that does not solve the right problems in the right way.
That’s why we’ve adopted the mantra of “Focus more on health and less on mobile.” This is in no way meant to advocate for a luddite-esque mentality of abstaining from technology. Instead, it’s meant to convey that better mobile solutions will manifest themselves when you first focus on understanding the behaviors and mental constructs relating to health in the context of your target users. This is done through gaining understanding and empathy around users’ needs, end goals, key pain points and critical behaviors.
This opinion is admittedly coming from a user-centered-design bias. But startups and established institutions employing human-centered-design methodology that focus on understanding user needs first are seeing great outcomes. Some examples include the MD Anderson wayfinding systemdone by fd2s, the Mayo Clinic’s design thinking initiative and Center for Innovation, ZocDoc, RunKeeper and Breeze.
Where do we go from here?
We should be excited about the potential that technology brings to solving wicked problems in the health care industry. Yet, it’s important to always keep our eyes on the potential user of that technology, and not become distracted by the noise technology can often bring.