Patients, Users & Beyond

Patients, Users & Beyond

Testing, testing, testing: why patient experience holds the key to scaling digital healthcare


Professor Mike Trenell, Chief Scientific Officer & Co-founder of Changing Health says that developing digital health devices without engaging patients is sheer madness

With ‘virtual care’ and telehealth set to transform the way we manage our health in the UK, the potential to improve outcomes at scale is huge. People with long term conditions – Type 2 diabetes, cancer, COPD and mental health difficulties, for example – can now access immediate support to manage with those conditions through apps, wearables, video consultations, voice-assistant therapies and other innovations – all facilitated by a cost-efficient infrastructure that most of us already carry around in our pockets.

This technology gives us the opportunity to play a greater role in our own health and care, and it’s a role that many of us have embraced; clinicians can expect a large proportion of patients with long term conditions to have at least some understanding of their condition and how it’s impacting their health at any one time.

This revolution in digital health looks unlikely to lose momentum any time soon. The NHS Long Term Plan claims that by 2021 ‘every patient will have access to online and video consultations if they choose it’. The new NHS WaitLess app has been described by some healthcare professionals as a ‘game changer’ by empowering patients with real-time data on A&E waiting times. In a recent report, endorsed by the Secretary of State for Health and Care Matt Hancock, The Taxpayer’s Alliance suggested that 10 per cent of the NHS budget could be saved through automation, for example the use of AI to analyse and filter emergency calls.

Horse before cart?

With ever greater integration of technology and health and wellbeing, however, comes a risk of losing sight of the wants and needs of those who use it. Smartphone proliferation has reached record levels in the UK; 78 per cent of us now use such a device. But that still leaves several million people who don’t, and scaling health-tech innovations too quickly leaves them at risk of digital exclusion.

Our apps and wearables, meanwhile, have empowered us with deeper insights into our own health than ever before – in real time – but some users fear that sharing these insights with their healthcare professional exposes them to data privacy risks. And with an estimated 97 per cent of NHS staff having shared confidential patient information with each other via non secure social messaging apps, according to one survey, it’s easy to see why.

Similarly easy to overlook is the need for human contact at the right moments. Automated health predictions, for example, may well improve efficiencies and free up healthcare professionals’ time, but the patient on the receiving end of some emotional news deserves to hear it from a person, not a chatbot.

So how can we develop digital health to its full potential while ensuring nobody gets left behind? The answer lies in putting patient-centricity, or patient experience, at the heart of innovation. Patient-centricity can be defined, according to the BMJ, as ‘putting the patient first in an open and sustained engagement of the patient to respectfully and compassionately achieve the best experience and outcome for that person and their family’.

At Changing Health, we’ve spent years identifying our service users’ needs and pain points to ensure our personalised, digital programmes for Type 2 diabetes management, Type 2 diabetes prevention and weight management are as accessible, engaging and meaningful as can be for every individual.

Mike Trenell

Personalised help

By stratifying patients using AI, we can provide an entirely bespoke user journey based on the information they provide at a series of data points, tailoring  content they’re shown in seconds. What’s more, digital health innovators can capitalise on an ever-growing supply of user data to constantly improve the product on offer; in monthly user experience audits we can see who’s using the Changing Health platform and how, when and for how long, then tweak the user experience based on these insights.

But patient-centricity in the digital world isn’t just about the tech; essential, too, is creating content with the user in mind from the outset. POWeR, the Southampton University developed, randomised control trial on which Changing Health’s behaviour-change programme is based, is recognised as one of the world’s leading RCTs on person-centred support. In collaboration with Professor Lucy Yardley, Professor of Health Psychology at Southampton University, and her team, over 150 pieces of POWeR content have undergone a customer centricity review at Changing Health to make the programme fit for scale. This covers three key areas:

  1. Readability: Ensuring all content is person-centred, easy to understand and free from judgement or blame.
  2. Psychology: Ensuring all content reflects the latest research on goal setting, action planning and behaviour change theory (on which more can be found here).
  3. Nutrition: Ensuring all education reflects the latest published research and/or nutritional guidance on diet, carbohydrates, fats and portion control.

For digital health innovators, ensuring patient centricity lies at the heart of everything we do requires an investment of time and effort – perhaps even a complete shift in mindset. The benefits, though, are clear to be seen: people who experience healthcare interventions positively become more engaged in managing their own health effectively. That, in turn, reduces strain on health economies and improves general wellbeing both for patients and healthcare providers. Delivered at scale, patient centricity will unlock the true potential for digital health as a panacea.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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