Digital Health: How to Rise Beyond the Pill?

The Digital Health Solutions Gap
The healthcare industry is struggling to respond to changing technology landscapes and increasing expectations from more informed consumers. Given the push to go ‘beyond the pill’ and focus on ‘value-based outcomes’, some companies have developed mobile apps and digital solutions to help patients manage disease conditions (link). However, user adoption of such apps remains poor. It’s not that consumers aren’t interested. Forty to sixty percent of 143M chronic disease patients in the US track their health indicators in some way (link).

The problem could be that many apps are built around the companies’ core products rather than being tailored to consumer needs (link). In fact, almost 50% of trackers with chronic conditions record their progress ‘in their heads’, rather than use an app, spreadsheet or diary (link).

Who Tracks Chronic Disease Indicators and How?graphic


For example, consider the Type 1 diabetes population. About 35% of diabetic patients use apps or software to log their data, but the majority find that current solutions neither improve their quality of life nor address their needs adequately. Doctors are probably overwhelmed too by all the data and are yet to be convinced by the potential of apps and trackers.

What patients want from health management solutions is the ability to make sense of the data and take action to better their health, i.e., spot trends and patterns and get actionable insights accounting for lifestyle and other contextual factors (link). The industry’s efforts to address these requirements have been rather small.

Using Consumer Insights & Behavioral Design to Develop Better Digital Health Solutions
How can digital health solutions establish user trust, improve patient health literacy, motivate patients to enroll and use, and influence physicians and health plans to embrace new services or solutions? Here are three recommendations for designing digital health solutions that fit into the patient’s lifestyle, improve quality of life and help with disease management with some examples.

Healthcare App Logos


  1. Build solutions with patient behavior and needs in mind.
    Co-creating with patients on the field can reveal user habits, behavioral attitudes and jobs-to-be-done that will inform product design and drive adoption and usage of the app or solution to better manage health. For example, Voxiva’s Care4Life mobile diabetes app uses behavior change techniques to increase patient knowledge, motivation, self-monitoring and medication adherence. Mango Health uses game design principles to help consumers manage and adhere to medications and create healthy habits.
  2. Provide personalized & actionable insights on how lifestyle, nutrition & fitness influence health condition.
    Data-logging is not enough. Show patients how their food intake, lifestyle, activity and medications affect their health condition and help them make better decisions. Contextual recommendations and coaching can simplify decision making, improve patient motivation and adherence to health goals and reduce time spent interpreting and worrying about the data. Meal Memory, Tidepool and Glooko are good examples of smart solutions helping diabetics better manage their disease. Welldoc offers personalized coaching and support to patients with multiple chronic conditions. Lifestyle, nutrition and fitness data can also reveal disease risk and progression enabling timely and better clinical intervention for prevention and treatment. Vivametrica and Project HoneyBee work in this space.
  3. Design a seamless, intuitive and simple user experience.
    Observing how patients use existing solutions and testing prototypes with lead users can reveal design deficiencies, must-have features, unmet UX needs and opportunities to improve health management. A seamless user experience can increase the effectiveness, efficacy and satisfaction dramatically. CVS’ pharmacy app has retained over 8.2M users by making its app very user friendly and is considered very successful in increasing patient compliance. Akibah, GoCap, Google/Novartis Contact Lens, Open Artificial Pancreas System are good examples of efforts to improve the diabetic patient’s overall experience.

As healthcare companies rethink innovation in the digital health space to avoid being disrupted, it is critical that new solutions are habit forming, delightful to use and impactful.

Mekhala Raghavan, PhD

Senior Associate