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April 16, 2014 Readers Write No Comments

Can Intuitive Software Design Support Better Health?
By Scott Frederick

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Biometric technology is the new “in” thing in healthcare, allowing patients to monitor certain health characteristics—blood pressure, weight, activity level, sleep pattern, blood sugar—outside of the healthcare setting. When this information is communicated with providers, it can help with population health management and long-term chronic disease care. For instance, when patients monitor their blood pressure using a biometric device and upload that information to their physician’s office, the physician can monitor the patient’s health remotely and tweak the care plan without having to physically see the patient.

For biometric technology to be effective, patients must use it consistently in order to capture a realistic picture of the health characteristics they are monitoring. Without regular use, it is hard to see if a reading is an anomaly or part of a larger pattern. The primary way to ensure consistent use is to design user-friendly biometric tools because it is human nature to avoid things that are too complicated, and individuals won’t hesitate to stop using a biometric device if it is onerous or complex.

Let’s look at an example.

An emerging growth area for healthcare biometrics is wireless activity trackers—like FitBit—that can promote healthier lifestyles and spur weight loss. About three months ago, I started using one of these devices to see if monitoring metrics like the number of steps I walked, calories I consumed and hours I slept would make a difference in my health.

The tool is easy-to-use and convenient. I can monitor my personal metrics any time, anywhere, allowing me to make real-time adjustments to what I eat, when I exercise, and so on. For instance, at any given time, I can tell how many steps I’ve taken and how many more I need to take to meet my daily fitness goal. This shows me whether I need to hit the gym on the way home from work or whether my walk at lunch was sufficient. I can even make slight changes to my routine, choosing to stand up during conference calls or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

I download my data to a website, which provides easy-to-read and customizable dashboards, so I can track overall progress. I find I check that website more frequently than I look at Facebook or Twitter.

Now, imagine if the tool was bulky, slow, cumbersome and hard to navigate. Or the dashboard where I view my data was difficult to understand. I would have stopped using it awhile ago—or may not have started using it in the first place.

Like other hot technology, there are several wireless activity trackers infiltrating the market, each one promising to be the best. In reality, only the most well-designed applications will stand the test of time. These will be completely user-centric, designed to easily and intuitively meet user needs.

For example, a well-designed tracker will facilitate customization so users can monitor only the information they want and change settings on the fly. Such a tool will have multiple data entry points, so a user can upload his or her personal data any time and from anywhere. People will also be able to track their progress over time using clear, easy-to-understand dashboards.

Going forward, successful trackers may also need to keep providers’ needs in mind. While physicians have hesitated to embrace wireless activity monitors—encouraging patients to use the technology but not leveraging the data to help with care decisions—that perspective may be changing. It will be interesting to see whether physicians start looking at this technology in the future as a way to monitor their patients’ health choices. Ease of obtaining the data and having it interface with existing technology will drive provider use and acceptance.

While biometric tools are becoming more common in healthcare and stand to play a major role in population health management in the future, not every tool will be created equal. Those designed with the patient and provider in mind will rise to the top and improve the overall health of their users.

Scott Frederick, RN, BSN, MSHI is director of clinical insight for PointClear Solutions of Atlanta, GA.

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