A few days ago I looked at the difficulty of getting broad adoption of new technology (see Moving Payer-Sponsored Mobile Apps From Neat To Necessary) – and the three big initiatives (process integration, incentives, and communication) needed to get across the adoption chasm.
But within those big initiatives is the issue of “ease of use” for the end user. In the health and human service field, that “end user” is both consumer and professional. And, like the rest of the population, the end user expectations of ease of use are changing. Expectations are higher. We’ve covered these interface design issues before: From website usability (see What Makes A Website ‘Work’? Superior Design & Accessibility), to online designs (see The Two Basic Elements For Successful Website Design and 3 Tips For A ‘Smartphone-Friendly’ Web Design), to speed of website impact (see Blink!), to search engine optimization (see Where Does Your Organization Rank Online?).
There have been a couple recent studies about design preferences specific to consumers with cognitive disorders that have caught my attention. The first has to do with the preference for communication vehicles. A recent research study found that people with a serious mental illness (SMI) prefer texting to downloading mobile treatment applications (see People With SMI Prefer Texting Programs To Downloading Treatment Apps). About 75% of people with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety own mobile phones; however, only 17% own a smartphone. Of those who own or share a mobile phone, 78% use the phone to send text messages and only 20% use the phone to download and use applications. This preference is also proving itself in other ways in the customer relationship – Consumers Like Using Text Messages To Solve Customer Service Issues, One-Third Of Americans Prefer Texts To Voice Calls, and 52 Percent Of Consumers Prefer Text Conversations with Support Reps Over Their Current Support Method.
The second study has to do with the design of web-based applications and websites. The research shows that for people with a serious mental illness (SMI), websites designed with “flat explicit design” principles are easier to use. In as near as layman’s terms as I can get, this is a design with fewer website layers, uses explicit text, employs navigational memory aids, groups hyperlinks in one area, and minimizes the number of disparate subjects an application addresses (see E-Health Applications & Websites With ‘Flat Explicit Design’ Model Reported Most Useable By Consumers With SMI).
If you want to see what this looks like in practice, check out these websites, which were rated in Critical Design Elements of E-Health Applications for Users With Severe Mental Illness: Singular Focus, Simple Architecture, Prominent Contents, Explicit Navigation, and Inclusive Hyperlinks:
- Schizophrenia – This is an internet community created to provide information, support, and education to family members, caregivers, and individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. After visual inspection of the home page, the mean usability score of the website was 3.63 out of a possible 5.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – This is a large national non-profit organization focused on advocacy, providing information to enhance mental health and prevention, and protecting services and supports for individuals diagnosed with mental illness and their friends and families. After visual inspection of the home page, the mean usability score of the website was 3.03 out of a possible 5.
- National Mental Health Association (MHA) – This is a large national non-profit organization focused on advocacy, providing information to enhance mental health and prevention, and protecting services and supports for individuals diagnosed with mental illness and their friends and families. After visual inspection of the home page, the mean usability score of the website was 2.84 out of a possible 5.
What are the implications of this recent research? For organizations designing tech-enabled consumer tools or developing care coordination or consumer self-management programs, this is what distinguishes an “interesting” service from one that has impact and is an operational success. We’ll keep you posted on new research in the intersection of technology as part of the solutions for consumers with complex needs. And for even more on technology selection and strategy, join me on June 17 for my session Digital Medicine In U.S. Health Care: Payers Who Are Making It Work, at the 2015 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute.