JMIR and iMA Partnership Logo

iMedicalApps and JMIR Publications have partnered to help disseminate interesting & innovative digital health research being done worldwide. Each article in this series will feature summaries of interesting studies to help you keep up to date on the latest in digital health research. We invite you to share your thoughts on the study in the comments section.

Developing Interactive eHealth Apps for Complex Messaging: Recommendations From the Safe-D Study

1. What was the motivation behind your study?

We developed the Safe-D app for use in a current clinical trial to assess its efficacy in improving vitamin D status in young women against supplementation and brochure based information. Throughout development we researched other e-health apps that varied in effectiveness, many of which were not developed grounded in theory. We report on our experiences developing Safe-D with a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, medical professionals and IT professionals to provide guidelines for future e-health app developments.

2. Describe your study.

We developed an Apple and Android app to improve vitamin D status in young women through encouraging safe UV exposure. The app was developed through participatory action research involving medical and HCI researchers, clinicians, developers and target users. Researcher reflections, observational notes and retrospective data from this app development were used to highlight recommendations for future e-health development efforts. Data analysis enabled abstractions and identification of overarching principles for development of interactive e-health apps for complex messaging.

3. What were the results of the study?

The first outcome of our research is the Safe-D app. From this development process recommendations for developing interactive e-health apps for complex messaging were created. These are: to involve a multidisciplinary team in the development process; manage complex messages to engage users; and, design for interactivity (tailor recommendations, remove barriers to use, design for simplicity).

4. What is the main point that readers should take away from this study?

While there are over 97,000 e-health apps in the app stores they are not simple to develop. The vast majority of available apps are not effective. For e-health interventions to work they should be developed with rigor, with the inclusion of multi-disciplinary teams and designing solutions with the usability and user experience front of mind.

5. What was the most surprising finding from your study?

One of the key surprises is actually the challenges of working in a multidisciplinary team. While in theory, it is understandable that there might be differences in the way the different disciplines approach a problem, there were surprises regarding vocab and terminology. Expectations of what developers can do need to be managed. This challenge cannot be underestimated.

6. What are the next steps? How do you envision this work ultimately translating into clinical practice or affecting R&D?

The Safe-D app is being validated in an RCT through the Royal Melbourne Hospital. We envision a second e-health app for clinical research being developed should follow these principles to improve the development process and effectiveness of the final output.

This Q&A was contributed by Kayla J Heffernan from the Department of Computing and Information Systems, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia.