Mobile Health

What Do Adolescents Want (In Mobile Health Apps)?



What Do Adolescents Want (In Mobile Health Apps)?


Executive Briefing

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by Monica E. Oss |
October 16, 2017


Monica E. Oss
Monica E. Oss

High levels of consumer engagement are the “golden standard” for health care organizations—with the assumption that engaged consumers are more involved in self-management and use fewer resources (see Consumer Satisfaction, Consumer Engagement & Shared Decisionmaking and Making Consumer Engagement A Reality). To that end, there is an emerging industry of services and technologies focused squarely on consumer engagement. For more on this industry, see In Health Care Tech Investments, Keep Consumers Part Of The Equation, Social Media Listening As Consumer Engagement Strategy, and Innovations In Consumer Technology: How To Use Tech To Increase Engagement & Improve Satisfaction.

What is unclear are the “best practices” for engaging consumers. At our 2017 OPEN MINDS Strategy and Innovation Institute, Humana’s Jeff Reid, in his keynote presentation, Humana’s Digital Transformation: Redefining The Consumer Health Care Experience, spoke of Humana’s work to separate consumers into specific cohorts based on their health needs and communication preferences. This use of consumer segmentation—a staple in other industries—is just coming to health and human services. And we are starting to see initial research studies that look at the preferences of specific types of consumers for participating in health care-related activities.

One study that I recently read focused specifically on the adolescent cohort. The study—A User-Centered Approach: Understanding Client And Caregiver Needs And Preferences In The Development Of mHealth Apps For Self-Management— looked at the mobile health preferences of adolescents with chronic diseases. Their findings?

Using focus groups of adolescents with disabilities, researchers explored mHealth systems to support self-management and prevent emergency room use. The researchers found that these youth “keep their mobile phones with them at all times” and identified five key elements in designing tech for this group:

  1. Make it easy—Both adolescents and caregivers emphasized the need to make apps simple to use. Apps should be easy to navigate, hands free, require minimal set-up, and even use minimum words, as many preferred pictures instead.
  2. Engage—One of the most interesting findings was that notifications and reminders are easy to ignore. Once the phone stops ringing, many of the adolescents forgot what they were suppose to do, in about five minutes. They suggested the need for content, animations, or funny voices not necessarily related to the reminder to help them engage better and follow-through.
  3. Educate and prepare—As individuals with a chronic condition, many of the adolescents requested in-depth content and information related to their disease and noted that many apps out there don’t provide the right type of information. Additionally, many requested an app that could show them their personal health information all in one place.
  4. Motivate and support—Especially important to this age group, which has grown up using social media sites such as Facebook and Snapchat, is the ability to tap into peer networks and supports. Additionally, adolescents were looking for the ability to share health milestones with friends and families and receive feedback on those goals.
  5. Personalize—Finally, adolescents wanted apps that allow them to access their health information and create and monitor goals. Being able to see their own individual progress in an app was extremely important.

My initial reaction. Adolescents are much more tech savvy than the rest of us, having grown up with the smartphone. But they want many of the same qualities in their apps that the rest of us want. Apps need to be easy to use, engaging, and related to their personal goals. I think one of the major challenges in the future will be for health apps to compete with and cut-through the noise of the other apps, emails, text messages, and notifications vying for a consumer’s attention. But at the same time, without an app or other types of technology adoption, consumers will either forget about your organization or move to an organization that can communicate and interact with them in their preferred manner.

For more on the ever-important task of adopting new technology, as well as the requisite tech mindset, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. Does Your Organization Need A Digital Transformation? Is Your Team Ready?
  2. Answering The Question Of What Digital Medicine Works
  3. ‘Must Have’ Technologies For Cutting Edge Population Management
  4. When It Comes To Digital Health Tools, What Do Consumers Want?
  5. 15 Virtual Reality Startups In Health Care
  6. FDA Approves Pear Therapeutic reSET Prescription Mobile CBT App For Outpatient Addiction Treatment
  7. Document Storage Systems Awarded Veterans Administration Contract For Mobile Medical Appointment Scheduling App
  8. Technology & The Future Of Mental Health Treatment
  9. Thinking Of Creating A Digital Health App?
  10. The Digital Revolution In Mental Health Hasn’t Happened Yet

For even more in person, join Andrew Wright, Vice President, Digital Medicine, OTSUKA America Pharmaceutical, Inc. on November 7 for his session, “Remaking Health Care With Wearable Technology & Digital Health – A View To The Future”, at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute.



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