AHRQ offers tips and best practices on consumer health IT design

A new report lists 10 tips for building IT that consumers will use.

More and more, health IT is expanding from the clinical into the commercial realm. With patient engagement so crucial to the transformation of care delivery, that's a good thing. But some consumer technologies are better than others.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), looking to improve the usefulness and efficaciousness of those ever-evolving technologies, has published a report listing 10 tips for building IT that consumers will use and find useful.

With "Designing Consumer Health IT: A Guide for Developers and Systems Designers," the agency seeks to help speed the development of "effective consumer health information technology applications so people can better use their personal health information to manage their health," officials say.

Having researched and identified successful consumer IT products – judged by market penetration, sales and customer adoption and enjoyment – AHRQ then examined the design methods used to develop them.

The list of best practices for designers, developers and vendors is derived from that research, officials say – adding that, "Where possible, advice is provided about how to apply these recommendations for consumer health, especially considerations about interoperability, privacy, and product safety."

[See also: Q&A: Eric Dishman on patient engagement]

AHRQ's top 10 pieces of advice for developers of consumer IT.


1. Make sure members of the design team have appropriate knowledge and skills for all phases of product development. "Include members with relevant skill sets," AHRQ officials write, "such as: designers with a track record of successful consumer product development; experts in human factors or usability; health care domain experts such as physicians and others who would interact with consumers using health IT applications; safety and privacy experts if the product needs to meet related standards, regulations and customer expectations [and] those with expertise in understanding diverse cultures or specific groups who make up the intended customer base."

2. Throughout all product development phases, seek to better understand customer needs specific to how the product will be used. "Team members should learn about interpersonal relationships, physical surroundings, and social and environmental (home and work) factors that might affect how customers will use a product," according to the report. "Health-related activities can occur in a wide variety of environments, including medical offices, hospitals, the home, work environments and the local community. Virtual environments, like online patient communities, health-related blogs and other types of social media may also be monitored to see how health issues are discussed."

3. Get input from a diverse set of customers when generating ideas for new products or evaluating early prototypes. "You will want to identify all the segments of customers that may use your product early in the design process. Only by understanding the various subgroups can you make sure they are represented in needs assessment and design tasks," write the researchers. "You should examine the customer subgroups separately so you can identify similarities and differences across groups. Differences across customer segments may be addressed in the product design or in the marketing strategy."

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