How to make digital health platforms more user friendly

From design decisions to providing user guidance, read this article to know how digital health platforms can better serve their current and potential users. 

If you, like me, are a frequent social media user, chances are that you’ve come across one or more ads convincing you to download a digital health app. Post COVID-19, most companies in health tech have pivoted strongly – offering mixed bundles of remote consultation, at-home fitness training, and medicine delivery – so much so that the lines seem to be blurring. 

While the idea of virtual assistance is intriguing, there’s healthy scepticism around adoption.

To be honest, until I started working in digital health, I was just as lost as most people with vague notions of how it worked. It was hard to see the potential in it beyond step trackers or on-demand delivery.

But from Day 1 at Phable, I was thrown headfirst into a number of new ideas. And of course, whenever I tell people that I work at a digital health platform, I am bombarded with questions about how it works. 

We’re in a space where people love and seek tech-enabled solutions for daily issues, with strong adoption patterns once a base need is met. But there’s work to be done in bridging the gap first – to translate offline behavior and processes into an online medium, so much so that it feels second nature to them, rather than a forced solution.

To understand this further from a healthcare perspective, I spoke to friends and family for an open conversation. From trust and credibility to a lack of vernacular options, here are some of the insights I gleaned from my exercise. 

Everything starts with UX

My journey started at home (because where else?). 

My mother, a 60 year old, lives with vertigo and odd bouts of asthma. For her, the biggest hassle is having to rely on other people for the sake of her health. Her expectation of a digital health solution is one that is easy to learn and use. But most of the apps available in the market continue to disappoint her. For her, fancy features mean nothing when she can’t find the right options. Even worse is that these apps are cluttered with things to do, but there is no guide or demo in place. 

A well mapped UX can greatly influence adoption. The right UX can make or break the success of digital health platforms. While functionality is an important factor, design is even more of an important aspect. 

Unlike fitness apps that provide weight loss guidance or provide fitness motivation, healthcare apps are used to address medical concerns, especially by the older demographic. In this case, users prefer ease of use and quick access over dynamic designs and stylish layouts. In the case of healthcare apps, design is the hero that leads the features to fruition. 

Why ‘Show don’t tell works’

With any new technology, there is a learning curve. 

This is the reason why apps that don’t provide guidance, would face trouble in effectively serving their purpose.  Whether it is through a tutorial video, a pinned article or even a demo feature, apps that show how it can be best used, will fare better with users.  

The same thought of educating through videos should be kept in mind even with general information dissemination within an app. For someone like my mother who looks online for answers for her many questions about healthcare, there is a lack of credible sources. Partnering with expert doctors and using their knowledge to create videos and articles can add to the overall experience for the users.

This will also aid in creating credibility for the platform and building trust among the user base.

digital health

The Future is Vernacular

The biggest barrier of usage for my mother and probably a lot of the other users like her is that there is a lack of available apps that feature local languages. 

As an app that deals with health – something of immense importance – it is essential to offer people more accessibility. With 22 local languages, and a large number of the older generation continuing to use them, not providing at least a ‘translate’ option is a pitfall on the side of the developers. While a lot of people do have a functional understanding of English, they continue to be more comfortable in their native language. 

Those apps that take this thought into consideration, hold a much higher chance of building a more vast and varied user base. 

The credibility gap and how to build bridges

When introduced to something new, people tend to take it with a side of scepticism. 

As expected, when I started the conversation about digital health solutions, I was met with blank stares and a lot of doubts. The people I talked to were yet to hear about friends or trusted doctors talk about trusted digital health platforms. 

The average user is not convinced by an impersonal list of features or benefits of a new app. Show them how the platform can be trusted with their health and life. People are intrigued when provided with specific examples of how these apps can help certain problems that they face, how it can simplify their life, reduce the money they spend on healthcare or save time.  

But most healthcare apps can only deliver on its promises when the users start to use the platform consistently. But without trust in it’s capabilities, users continue to be skeptical.

This is a vicious cycle that can be solved by introducing digital health aspects to familiar experiences. 

Partnering with doctors, and convincing them of the benefits can simplify the process of getting to the masses. Scheduling in-person appointments online, conducting virtual follow up sessions are all small steps that can make users more comfortable with going digital. 

My friend’s father, Mr. Sukumar is a 55 year old engineer to whom technology and apps are not unfamiliar. But he still continues to be doubtful if video consultations over in-person appointments is enough to ensure his safety and health. 

But he was also of the opinion that the presence of reputed doctors on the platform, or being suggested to use certain apps by a trusted doctor can convince him to give it a go. 

This is an especially reliable way to bridge the credibility gap with users if the doctors or other users can illustrate how certain app features can solve particular health concerns. 

How loyalty can lead the way

Most users are apprehensive when it comes to using digital health solutions – 

  1. Will the app really be able to deliver what they claim? 
  2. Will a digital experience ever be able to replace in-person consultation? 
  3. Am I tech-savvy enough to use this app effectively?

These are all valid questions that should be kept in mind while communicating with your users. 

It is common for users to doubt their technological know-how, along with the features that may seem far fetched to them. The best tactic at this juncture is to highlight the user experiences of those that went through the same problems and came away with positive experiences. 

This existing user experience can also be used to make new users understand and address any concerns. . Whether it is buying a healthcare device, or using an app, word of mouth still continues to be the most trusted form of advice. 

By building loyalty among the existing users, the healthcare platforms can continue to build a bigger and more trusting user base. 

The power of personalization

We all deserve care that is as specific to our need as our unique genetic makeup. But will a digital health platform be able to do that? 

Well, when I talked to 38-year-old Mr Manaf, this was his biggest concern – Whether a healthcare app can deliver the personalized experience he relies on a doctor for.

Digital healthcare apps that give reminders or helping with tracking is understandable. But I’m still doubtful if  an app can really help me monitor my vitals and provide preventive care.

But giving him a rundown of how these apps work, made him more open to adoption. Letting users in on how different aspects of how the technology works and how it delivers on its promises, can help in convincing users of its effectiveness. 

The importance of consistency in receiving a personalized experience should also be highlighted to the users. Most modern day users tend to depend on apps with a transactional view – using apps only for specific needs. Sure, using a digital health platform for booking consultations or uploading reports might serve the immediate purpose. But most digital healthcare solutions work best when consistently used. 

Adding daily vitals, uploading their reports consistently, uploading varying moods or symptoms can all work together to deliver a truly personalised app experience.

Targeting the user vs targeting the caregiver

For people with older parents like my friend Chithra*, digital health platforms seem like something too good to be true. 

When asked about her outlook on them, she said, “I’d like to believe that they are going to make my life easier. I’m not someone well versed with the medical world, but as my parents grow older, I’m always looking to know more about how I can make them more healthy and comfortable.”

In the current times, caregivers can be a great ally to encourage patients to try digital health platforms for their various purposes. They can support the less tech-savvy patients with guidance as well as be a source of feedback for those building digital health platforms.  

While it is necessary to market healthcare apps to all potential users, specifically targeting caregivers and enthusiastic users might be an even better strategy. If a digital health platform succeeds in convincing them of the benefits and ease of use, their influence can be used to convert potential users who may be apprehensive. 

Healthcare is a highly crucial space where every hard and soft touchpoint matters, with an incredibly strong human element involved in all decision-making. 

 Making digital platforms more user friendly with focused outcomes is not just a plain design or tech challenge – it’s a deeper effort at understanding what drives all of us, and how we can forge bonds that transcend transactional targets.

Phable is an innovative lifestyle disease management app simplifying life for patients & doctors through health monitoring and doctor intervention.

Download Phable: Play Store (or) App Store