Technology innovation appears to be advancing at breakneck speed, but the mobile health sector continues to move forward in fits and starts. Developers have access to established sensing technologies, sophisticated algorithms, robust networks, and core wearable technologies. Nevertheless, key players in this space—from the Fortune 100 to lean startups—have made little more than incremental steps forward, from monitoring health data in real time and sending alerts to others to enabling data sharing between devices.
|Many manufacturers and developers are missing major opportunities in their mobile health innovation pursuits by narrowly focusing their products' benefits on data delivery, rather than on the products’ relevance for and impact on key stakeholders’ quality of life.|
This halting progress has left many questioning what the fulcrum point will be for tipping the mobile health market from incremental advancement to industry-changing innovation. The answer lies within the broader framework of first-generation product development, spanning strategy, research, technology development, and industrial and user-experience design.
Many manufacturers and developers are missing major opportunities in their mobile health innovation pursuits by narrowly focusing their products' benefits on data delivery, rather than on the products’ relevance for and impact on key stakeholders’ quality of life. However, data delivery alone does not necessarily confer value to users. By leveraging curation and contextualization, developers can help transform today’s digital health-data transactions into experiences that deliver more meaningful value to users, capitalize on new opportunities, and drive the next wave of mobile health innovation.
A Matter of Choice
From a historical perspective, value has been inextricably linked to the notion of giving consumers choices. In the 1950s, when variety was novel, companies began to offer consumers more soda flavors and more automobile colors. Today, with a huge magnitude of choices available for every consumable good on the market—a trend that the Internet has only accelerated—we’ve reached a tipping point, turning consumer choice into a high-pressure proposition. From health insurance plans with variable options and deductible levels to dozens of grocery stores with thousands of products, consumers are confronted with making choices across all aspects of their lives.
Beyond the amazing volume of choices, we are also exposed to far more information than we have the time, power, or energy to use. Most of us don’t go home each night to read about our dental benefits and weigh the value of changing plans, nor do we regularly examine the technical manuals for our furnaces to evaluate whether we’re getting the most out of them. While the plethora of choices and information confronting consumers might imply that they are well positioned to make good choices in every field with complete control over their own destiny, an information paradox has evolved that ultimately overwhelms them, leading to adoption deterrence and decision-making paralysis.
To say that we’re inundated with choice would be a serious understatement in today’s world. In the same vein, medical device developers who believe that their innovations will be a dynamic hit in the marketplace simply because they provide users with all the information they ever dreamed of are in for a rude surprise. Most people don’t want more choices—they want your product to deliver favorable outcomes.
Curation through User Insight
Not surprisingly, many consumers would prefer to simply trust the source providing them with information. But while few people want unlimited information and options that contribute to choice-induced fatigue, they also don’t want too little. At its core, curation informs a developer’s decisions about what types of information or feedback end users need from a product—and how much. These decisions are informed by user-centered research that provides a deep level of user understanding, helping developers to strike a delicate balance between too much and too little information. Ultimately, curation driven by user insight positions developers as the trusted arbiters of effective solutions, assisting users in overcoming the information paradox.
|By examining different user segments, personas, and profiles, developers can begin to determine their leading opportunities for industry-changing mobile health innovations.|
Understanding distinct user populations is central to curation. Conducted around the specific parameters of a project, research toward this end can be quite liberal in scope. It is based on the fidelity of a concept, which stage of development a concept is in, what the developers know, and where they’re trying to go.
By examining different user segments, personas, and profiles, developers can begin to determine their leading opportunities for industry-changing mobile health innovations. This approach allows them to identify which groups they shouldn’t pursue because no matter what they do, they won’t be able to hook them. For example, an early adopter may be enthusiastic and passionate about new technology, seek exposure to everything a first-generation mobile health device can do, and crave constant feedback from it. However, the needs, desires, and motivations of this user population are generally quite different from those of all other potential end users.
Effective curation can also be the cornerstone of building a strong brand identity. Take Apple and Fitbit, for example. Apple established its longstanding brand equity by understanding how people really do things. The company has enjoyed substantial market share and has successfully launched numerous first-generation products that leverage user insights. For its part, newcomer Fitbit understood user needs in a way that even well-established brands could not. The company developed a single-step, wearable digital devices that was remarkably simple to learn, enabling it to become a market leader in the process.
Instant Gratification versus Long-Term Thinking
When users adopt new products, short-term gratification often trumps long-term preventive value propositions. Feedback is an important part of a positive user experience, and we are gratified when we get meaningful feedback that enables us to achieve something easily and intuitively. Curated information provided in a timely and context-sensitive manner can be a developer’s foundation for achieving this end. To be successful, the next wave of mobile health innovation needs to be framed in terms of tangible, realizable, positive outcomes in response to what patients must do. Otherwise, a product can appear too onerous or complicated to integrate into a user’s daily routine. People need a compelling and relatable reason to engage.
As its name implies, contextualization is about understanding the contexts in which end users will engage with and benefit from a product based on their behaviors, activities, goals, and obligations. By leveraging these key user insights, developers can effectively architect intuitive, meaningful, actionable, and rewarding solutions that integrate into patients’ lives. In addition, such insights help developers to understand the extent to which they can change user behavior and leverage entrenched habits.
Let’s say, for example, that you have developed a great new technology—a very discreet body-worn sensor that provides blood glucose readings every fifteen minutes. While the technology may be truly revolutionary, it may also require that the user understand how to respond to the readings. For patients, this is an extraordinary leap because it demands that they translate data that are not immediately relevant to them, make calculations, learn the language of the device, and essentially revise how they think.
In contrast, a solution rooted in contextualization would be immediately meaningful to the patient, enabling them to directly understand and leverage it to inform their actions. For example, based on real-time data, the digital reading from the body-worn sensor might suggest that the user curb food intake for the next hour or consume a protein snack.
Curation and contextualization can ultimately drive the next wave of mobile health innovation by providing developers with a keen understanding of users’ lives. Such understanding can help developers to affect—or, in some cases, not affect—the user and inform them how, when, and where a product will or will not fly. By better understanding people’s lives, we will be better able to predict the larger implications of our ideas for innovation, allowing us to translate these implications into user and design requirements. We will also be better positioned to navigate decisions about how a new product is positioned and how it will ultimately deliver functionality and value in its final embodiment.
Ed Geiselhart is director of innovation and user experience at Insight Product Development. He joined the company in 1999 and has more than 20 years of experience in development consulting. As a manager of project teams, he is heavily involved with helping clients solve complex challenges utilizing new methods that balance business goals, technical considerations, market influences, and user needs. He has also published numerous articles and has spoken on innovation domestically and internationally. Geiselhart received a BS degree in industrial design from the University of Cincinnati. Reach him at [email protected].