Should health apps be as fun as Angry Birds?

By Brian Dolan
10:10 am

Angry Birds iPhone appWhen it comes to medical apps, it’s not that patients want their apps to play more like Angry Birds; it's that they want them to be so easy and efficient to use, that they'll have more time to play Angry Birds.

In her essay in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine supplement “Cyberinfrastructure for Consumer Health,” Dr. Jessie Gruman makes four observations about health information technology: new technology helps a lot but often demands more of patients; EHRs should be a high priority; patients need to play a role in development; and solutions need to be tested for usability more thoroughly. Additionally, she proposes ways for mobile device and app makers targeting patients to make their offerings more successful. Mainly, her suggestions fall on the side of making life easier on people managing chronic illness rather than trying to make things flashy or “fun.” In the end, managing chronic illness will probably never be considered fun, no matter how cool the iPhone apps are.

Dr. Gruman asks developers to explore what their target audiences have to accomplish in their daily lives to manage their medical issues, and to make devices and apps that simplify those tasks. Learning new systems or complicated tools should not be added to that burden. She notes that testing apps and devices with people who might use them in the future -- with particular focus on older, less tech-savvy age groups -- will help create solutions that will make patients day-to-day lives easier.

One recurring theme that pops up in these pages also shows up in Dr. Gruman's concerns: electronic health records (EHRs). Specifically, interoperable records that will take the burden off the patient to collect and distribute their health data. In her essay, Gruman states that this technology has the most potential in helping those managing chronic illness. EHR's mean that many physicians a patient consults will all have access to the same records, while also meaning that mobile data could easily be added to a centrally located database. Let's build a seamless system that makes makes mobile data collection even better.

Dr. Gruman is not the only person asking developers and device makers to find ways to make solutions easier for patients. Just last week, we reported that a survey conducted by Cambridge Consultants found that patients were mostly willing to pay more for user friendly devices. About 77 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay a slight premium for more usable health devices. The survey included healthcare providers and 240 diabetes patients.

For more, read the blog post and the essay.

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