Patient convenient technology

Technology has the potential to reduce the burden on health services by empowering patients to be more self-supporting.

Apps which record clinical data, prompt users to undertake activities like exercise, remind patients to take their medication, or provide patient education already exist, but the uptake is low.

This is because of the paradox that the people who stand to gain the most from these innovations are the least able to use them due to a lack of confidence and skills in the technology on offer. A systematic review of patient participation in BMJ Open stated:

“Qualitative feedback suggests that acceptability of monitoring is related to perceived validity, ease of practice, convenient technology, appropriate frequency and helpfulness of feedback…”

Convenient technology is crucial as digital skills are still low in Britain. Approximately 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills, while 5.8 million have never used the internet at all.

This is bad news for those of us driving digital innovation to improve health care and worse news for society as a whole because:

“…The fact is that there is a huge crossover between those who are digitally excluded, those who are socially excluded, and those at risk of poor health.”

For example, patients in a cardiology ward in Southampton General Hospital, on average 60-80 years old, needed to make lifestyle changes after suffering heart attacks. When offered diet and exercise tracking apps by well meaning younger relatives, the patients turned them down as they couldn’t read anything on a small screen. It was not convenient for them.

Product development is not taught in medical schools or on the wards, so how do we make patient convenient technology that goes beyond the app?

One proven technique is to use ‘inclusive innovation’ to create products that are useable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, by ensuring we know everything about our end users. We need to create personas in order to do this.

Personas are fictional characters which represent your users. They typically have a name, picture, age, income, behavioural traits and a goal that describes the problem they want to see solved. Personas help us embrace a user-centric approach. Ask yourself whether your users have:

  • low user literacy,
  • poor language skills,
  • disabilities – visual, auditory, mobility-related, cognitive,
  • access to technology like smartphones.

A useful overview of persona creation can be found here.

Create a paper prototype and enlist all your family and friends that most closely match your persona to test it. This is a way of getting valuable feedback even before you have written a line of code. Keep it simple; fix one problem first then build on that.

If the tech has to be complex, the model delivered by the Tinder Foundation is a useful place to start. They suggest:

  • running community outreach events,
  • running digital surgeries to engage and train patients,
  • training health and care professionals.

To summarise, get the product right and technology has the potential to empower patients, improve their quality of life and reduce costs. Get it wrong and you risk being left with a very expensive mistake, and a lack of trust in digital technology which could prove damaging to the uptake of potentially great future innovations. Ensuring that your technology is inclusive and convenient is paramount.