The digital healthcare revolution has well and truly arrived. Whether you want to get fit, get happy, track your glucose levels or remember to take your medication, there are dozens of apps to help. 

In April 2020, health and fitness app downloads were up 80% year-on-year, boosted of course by the pandemic and the difficulty of seeing professionals face to face. There are now a whopping 350,000 apps on the market in this sector, providing services that are available 24/7 at a time when state healthcare everywhere is under enormous pressure.

More than that, by empowering people to take control of their health and providing tailored care, apps can deliver better outcomes, especially when used in conjunction with medication or other treatments. But it’s a complicated picture in terms of regulation and effectiveness, and many healthcare professionals and potential users remain sceptical. So what are the challenges?

Trust is still the key issue

In the EU, apps that provide diagnoses or calculate medical doses need a CE certificate. In England, those that provide a virtual doctor have to be approved by the CQC. But apps based on AI or machine learning do not.

A review of 5,000 healthcare apps by by digital health management platform Orcha found that 80% did not meet NHS standards. Issues included quality of information, regulatory requirements and lack of security updates. So it’s not surprising that many healthcare professionals remain wary of them. 

This is something that needs to be addressed by the industry. An Australian study found that consumers were most likely to trust recommendations by GPs and pharmacists and least likely to trust ‘big tech’ such as Google and Apple. Peer recommendations sit somewhere in the middle. So in the current landscape, for digital healthcare providers to reach end users, healthcare professionals have to also be on board. 

Consumers, rightly or wrongly, may currently assume that digital healthcare companies care more about profits than they do about the value and effectiveness of their services. Security and privacy is another big issue, with people wary about giving away personal health information for fear it may be used in ways they hadn’t considered. 

So what do healthcare innovation companies need to do to create apps that gain the trust of both healthcare professionals and potential users? They need to pay close attention to everything from speed to creating effective behaviour change and transparency around data:

Getting the UX basics right

Experiences that are slow to load, glitchy to use or that repeatedly lock users out of their accounts are likely to be abandoned in a matter of days or even hours. The user experience should be simple, fast and seamless, while still allowing for stringent security. Successful apps use established, easily recognised patterns, rather than draining the user’s enthusiasm by making them work hard at understanding unfamiliar sequences or models. 

A through understanding of behaviour change

Digital healthcare providers need to understand the drivers for particular behaviours, the barriers to change and the way that change can be encouraged at each stage of the journey. Only by understanding how someone feels moment by moment can the right intervention be made at the right time. To prevent drop-off it’s also important that users are made aware that their own behaviours will impact on outcomes, and of the likely timeline for them to see an improvement in their health or wellness.

Solid research and testing

One of the biggest criticisms of healthcare and wellness apps is that some do not carry out enough research to ensure that they will work.. One study found that few have real evidence of clinical effectiveness. Many digital healthcare companies will need to raise their standards of research if they are to convince healthcare professionals that the apps they develop have real value. Apps should be tested at every stage of development to check they are working as effectively as intended and in order to refine and enhance performance as time goes on.

Creating the right tone of voice

That healthcare apps need to communicate in a way that is straightforward, trustworthy and professional almost goes without saying. But it’s empathy, judging the right tone for the right time, that can really make the difference between success and failure. This means having a deep understanding of patients’ emotional as well as healthcare journey. Jargon should be avoided, but successful healthcare and wellness apps will gradually educate their users and explain useful medical terms when appropriate. 

Protecting data

The vast amounts of data generated by apps can be an incredibly powerful force for good, creating better understanding and better results. But it also needs protection. No one wants their personal health data being fed into Google or Apple without their express permission. Users need to trust that their data is being managed and protected in accordance with ethical standards and regulations.

Healthcare apps are already improving patient outcomes around the world. If digital healthcare companies can now meet the challenge of creating more trust, both in healthcare professionals and in end users, they will be able to help millions more on their journey to better health and wellbeing. 

The BIO Agency work with digital healthcare providers including GSK and Smith+Nephew. To talk to us about your challenges please get in touch: makesomething@thebioagency.com

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