I’ve ranted a bit about the ways in which researchers and commercial app developers approach the design of eHealth applications. One of the major differences concerns how we emphasize form versus function.
Take a look at our research-grade eHealth applications — their designs frequently compare in no way to those of commercial applications. You might be surprised that this doesn’t bother most researchers. That’s because most of us believe that function > form. We generally think that it’s better to place more weight on ensuring that our apps are adherent to theoretical principles and incorporate evidence-based components.
(Now, I think that notion was probably correct 25 years ago when there were only so many ways that you could visually layout a paper brochure. Today however, I think the science of form is arguably as compelling as that of function).
For example, look at the blood pressure self-monitoring app from Bloodnote. You’d be hard pressed to argue that the app on the right (which has most of the same functionality as the Bloodnote app) will result in higher participant engagement. And for most clinical outcomes, we know that higher engagement leads to more healthful change. Of course, we don’t know that commercial apps work better than their research-grade counterparts, and I hope the question will be of increasing interest to our developer friends.
It’s easy to beat up on the eHealth research community for our designs. But, I think we’ve been working with one (usually, both) hands tied behind our backs. We don’t have the budgets (and rarely, the expertise) to produce high-end designs. So, I think it’s actually pretty amazing that we have an emerging literature that shows positive health benefits associated with applications that have low-end designs.
The next frontier for eHealth, I think, will be merging high quality forms with theory- and evidence-based functionality. We need to break down the walls between the academic and industry communities to design and test eHealth apps that look and work well.