Healthcare is seeing an increase in mobile innovation, but how can we make sure that new tools are responsive to patients’ needs?
Mobile health, or mHealth, presents opportunities for developers to create exciting technology that could address some of the industry’s most pressing concerns. Innovative new devices and applications could reduce healthcare costs, improve access to resources, and decrease inequalities for underrepresented populations.
However, mHealth can also be exclusionary — accessible only to the wealthy — or impractical for users. So, how can you tell if a mobile device is actually meeting patients’ needs? We take a look at what makes an mHealth device sustainable and how well-executed technology can make a powerful impact.
What We Know about mHealth
mHealth tools tend to be used by young, educated, healthy, and affluent patients. Developers often find that the expense of technology often excludes the people who need it most. However, there are increasing opportunities to integrate new devices into underrepresented communities where they can create positive change.
32% of consumers currently have a health app on their mobile device. This number has doubled since 2013, indicating that people are becoming more interested in monitoring their own healthcare. Some of the most popular apps focus on drug recommendations, first aid instructions, and scheduling doctor’s appointments.
Healthcare is becoming more convenient and accessible, and as many as 80% of patients are open to alternative treatments beyond traditional doctor’s visits. This includes using wearable devices to monitor their vitals, which is something 31% of patients stated they would be willing to do. However, technology will likely have the greatest impact on how patients learn about and understand their health, with 59% reporting that they expect developments in mHealth to change how they research care.
Meeting Patients’ Needs
With more patients and medical providers interested in mobile health, the atmosphere is especially conducive to innovation. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a new device should focus on solving a tangible problem that users face. Understanding patients’ needs is key to making an impact, as this can make or break a tool’s ability to scale.
A South African application called MomConnect was able to find success by paying close attention to its user base: pregnant women in low-resource communities. By communicating in a user’s language of choice, providing resources and parental support, and tailoring communications to the child’s stage of development, MomConnect was able to establish a lasting connection with moms and ultimately scale up to over 1.8 million users.
MomConnect teaches mHealth developers important lessons on how to scale both locally and nationally. It also shows the importance of securing advocates in the government to spread the word. MomConnect built buy-in with the National Department of Health’s Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, who was critical in helping to champion the initiative.
How to Succeed in mHealth
Like MomConnect, a successful device or application should be able to meet real needs of real users, as well as build partnerships across sectors with non-profits, academics, community groups, and donors. Each of these organizations can help with different parts of the process, such as funding, technical development, or community mobilization. With government support and an adaptable platform, your device could even be integrated into the health system and used for other initiatives in the future.
Once users have a chance to try the device, you can learn a lot from assessing their response. To identify whether new technology is meeting consumers’ needs, it’s important to evaluate patient data and identify areas for improvement. Effective mHealth tools are responsive to patients’ feedback, and willing to adapt to make a greater impact.