Years of progress have made it simple for many remote health monitoring devices to connect easily and seamlessly with healthcare providers. With the technical challenges largely overcome, the role of the user experience in ensuring patient compliance becomes most important.
As Joseph Kvedar, M.D., explains in “The Role of Design and Engagement in Connected Health,” remote sensor monitoring routines can quickly become tedious and can remind patients of unpleasant things - the conditions they are monitoring - unless they feel that their healthcare provider is engaged and the process is leading them toward a positive outcome. Designing the process to be engaging to a non-technical user is crucial to success.
Another important user engagement issue is the paradox that as remote monitoring devices become more automated, patients become less engaged with the tasks that keep them focused on improving their health. As Dr. Kvedar describes it:
As the Internet of Things has become a reality, increasingly sensors are designed to easily offload their data to the cloud. Set up is easy, always through your smartphone, connections are much more robust and data flows effortlessly. Wear and forget is becoming a reality and new products from companies like Proteus Digital Health and MC 10 take disposable/wearable/ingestible to a new level. But as we perfect systems to capture health data and make it easy, people tend to forget about the data feedback loops that allow for improvements in health.
Yes, we’ve done a great job of frictionless data capture, but we’ve lagged on engagement. Designers of consumer mobile apps are constantly studying how to employ mobile technology to keep users engaged with their content. News apps get your attention through banners, notifications, etc. when there is fresh content. But I can’t think of a health app that does a good job at this. For example, my favorite activity tracker app sends me the same three messages every day, “You’re almost there,” “You reached your goal” and “You’ve outdone yourself.” It’s no wonder that the new industry phrase for measuring device success is “time to drawer.” Or, stated another way, how long did you wear the thing before you got bored with it and threw it in the drawer?
So, the paradox results from two observable facts. First, because it was such an engineering challenge to get data flowing in a frictionless manner, most of the current devices and systems were designed by engineers (quantitative people) and adopted early by other quantitative people (e.g., quantified selfers). Early adopters were engaged by their own data and probably needed less in the way of software engagement. Second, creating sustained engagement via software is hard, especially in health-related interventions. The most engaging apps are still in the communication/social realm – WeChat, SnapChat, Instagram, etc. They harness the natural human need to share and interact with others. Who wants to be reminded they are overweight? Or have high blood pressure? Or have to stick their finger twice a day to check their blood sugar? The engagement challenge here is orders of magnitude more difficult.
Achieving passive data upload (we’re not 100% done but the end is in sight) is a feat we can all be proud of. If we’re going to make connected health a widespread reality in the lives of consumers and patients, we have to double down on engagement. We need to bring together first class designers, motivational psychologists, marketing scientists, behavioral economists and all others who understand how to build sticky apps and services. We owe it to our patients to create well-designed, engaging apps. If we don’t, they’ll be paying attention to Instagram and our connected health devices will lie fallow in a corner somewhere.