Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Prioritizing Engagement and Effectiveness in Digital Health

December 22, 2014

Moderator’s Note: This post was authored by Katie Halkyard MPH, CHES, who served as Research Manager for CIRP’s Digital Health Initiative. A trained public health professional and health educator, her work at CIRP focused on identifying evidence-based strategies to effectively develop, evaluate, and disseminate health information in the digital age. As of July 2016, Ms. Halkyard has left CIRP to pursue her career elsewhere.

Two overarching themes are beginning to emerge in digital health that are important to public health and align well with CIRP@CHOP’s own digital health research: engagement and effectiveness. At the recent 6th annual mHealth Summit, panelists and attendees from academia, medical software and device manufacturers, and the wireless and mobile industry discussed trends and research in the field. Specifically they considered:  

  1. How do technology developers integrate digital and mobile health solutions into the healthcare system to successfully engage both clinicians and patients?
  2. How can technology developers create digital health tools that are effective in solving the healthcare issues of today and tomorrow?

Theme 1: Increasing Engagement

This buzzword in digital health is loosely defined as the phenomena associated with wanting to use and interact with an application (device, app, site, tool, etc.) over a significant period of time. Over and over again, panelists warned of the dangers of not engaging a technology’s target audience:

  • By not increasing user engagement, digital health will become the next dot-com bubble, a market that grew rapidly until it collapsed in the early part of this century.
  • Digital health companies will not be successful if they do not integrate their products and tools into the clinical workflow, which makes it easier for clinicians to access and use them as well as recommend them to patients at point of care.
  • Digital health technologies need to be easy and convenient to use, solve compelling issues, and improve patient care. If they are not able to meet these goals, healthcare providers and patients will not use them in the long-term.

Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, highlighted some key points on how to build engaging digital health tools for both providers and patients:

  • Make technology “frictionless,” which means intuitive, passive, and not a lot of work for the user
  • Include a social element that lets users interact through camaraderie, competition, and visibility
  • Personalize the technology to the user
  • Make the technology relevant to everyday life

Theme 2:  Increasing Effectiveness

Harry Reynolds, director of Health Industry at IBM, stressed that once the patient user is engaged, the technology must then demonstrate evidence of benefit (effectiveness), at which point it becomes a valuable healthcare solution. The key elements of effectiveness, as defined by several presenters involved in healthcare administration, include high return on investment, improved clinical outcomes specific to a health or healthcare system issue, and overall increases in the quality of patient care.

Essentially, if the technology is effective, patients are more likely to use it, providers are more likely to recommend it to their patients, and healthcare systems are more likely to purchase it.

The discussion of engagement and effectiveness is not new to the digital health field but it is still emerging as a priority. During the past year, research conducted by CIRP@CHOP's Digital Health Initiative has focused on the four “E’s” (evidence, evaluation, ecosystem, and engagement) of digital health. Proven methodologies for digital health engagement and effectiveness have been repeatedly discussed in the scholarly and gray literature over the past several years. However, with the proliferation of digital health products, new  regulations promoting value-based care, and further integration of technology into healthcare, healthcare systems are now demanding more evidence-based, clinically valuable digital health products that can reduce costs and improve patient health outcomes.

So what’s on the horizon for digital health? It is clear that the field still needs to develop a model or formula for how to successfully create and integrate a true digital health “solution” that is relevant, engaging, and effective for both patients and providers. Based on my experience at the 2014 mHealth Summit, the New Year will be a key turning point for the future of digital health, centered on creating this formula.