Prototyping for eHealth

I have never used eHealth apps myself. However I am in the middle of a course on Futurelearn that is all about developing eHealth. This means I am able to participate in discussions with people who do have experience of using eHealth apps. The course is great for me. I’ve always been curious about the processes involved in developing apps for mobile phones, and now is my chance to have a go.

Currently, I am at the stage of designing a ‘lo-fi’ prototype for an eHealth app. Prototypes of this sort don’t need to be technical in any way. In fact, we are being encouraged to make them on paper or on a computer screen. At the same time as taking this course, I am also working on a literature review about diabetes prevention. So what better topic for my first design than a Type 2 diabetes prevention app?

Developing the concept

Actually, I decided it might be more realistic to create a diabetes manager app. At least there is a clear target audience. After all, I am finding from the literature review that it can be very challenging to engage people to look after their health “just in case” they develop a preventable disease.

So far, I am discovering that an important key to a good design is to make the app visually appealing. The information needs to be concise, and people need to be enticed in with simple images, videos and clear navigation. Underneath all of that, the needs and requirements of the target audience need to be established. People need a very good reason to use it.

Understanding user requirements

Why would someone with diabetes want an app? I can only guess that people who use apps are already committed in some way. They are motivated to take good care of themselves and their condition. And, they are probably the kind of people who are interested in making technology work for them. I will have to leave to another day the problem of how to reach people who do not fit into these two categories.

I’m interested in how healthcare professionals and service users can work together to manage long-term conditions. There’s a huge scope for technology to play a supporting role here. I like the idea of technology levelling out the playing field between clinician and patient. People need to be empowered to take control.

For instance, when you attend a consultation with a clinician, they will have all the data about you available at their fingertips. But you don’t have the data in front of you in the same way. As a patient, you are aware of the time pressures, and you’ve been thinking for weeks about all the things you wanted to talk about. If you’re anything like me you come armed with the set of questions, but don’t ask them all because as you get the end of the list, it all starts to feel a little trivial. Perhaps those last two questions aren’t really very important. You feel you are already taking up too much of their time. That’s my reality, anyway.

When I first started to design my diabetes manager app, I had these experiences in mind. I was also considering a case study in which a clinician had to input a lot of patient self-report data by hand during a consultation. The challenge was to design an eHealth solution that would solve some of the problems for both clinician and patient.


At first, I felt completely overwhelmed by the task. But then I thought I should really just have a go. I tried to analyse the situation from both perspectives. I tried to apply the design principles. I also decided to have a go at using Balsamiq software .

Balsamiq is a software environment that allows you to do rapid mockups. It claims to reproduce the experience of sketching on a whiteboard. I always find a little bit of technology helps me to be creative and overcome the inertia of getting started on something that feels difficult.

Imagine Ravi who has type II diabetes. He’s really keen to manage it better, and would like to have a better relationship with the diabetic nurse specialist who he sees about once every couple of months.

So I thought, what if Ravi has a really clever glucose meter that will transmit data to a phone app, and the app will transmit this data to a central patient record. Then, I thought well, what if everything else like the exercise diary, food diary and weight measurements could also be sent by the app to the central record? Ravi could agree with the nurse specialist the kind of things to keep a record of.

I started to sketch out the home screen of the app. I majored on using photographs for visual appeal and interest. I had very little text on this screen. Alongside the exercise diary and food diary, I decided that Ravi might want some information as an aide memoire of exercises or types of physical activity he can do as well as the kind of foods he should be encouraged to eat or avoid.

Here is a screenshot of the prototype I came up with after about an hour fiddling around with Balsamiq. This of course is only the first step. Each link on the homepage opens up a range of possibilities. How will we exercise and food tips be presented? Should I use video and how much? How can I produce a blood glucose graph? And so on.


Learning with others and making connections

Learning as part of a large group has its benefits here. I’m able to pick up ideas from my peers. For example, wouldn’t it be great to incorporate reminders to exercise, measure blood glucose, or take medication? One of my fellow students included mood snapshots – how am I feeling now? What a great idea! Sending alerts to the clinician if things are going a bit haywire would also be very useful.

Then, I remember from my work on the literature review that waist measurement can be very significant in people with diabetes. Again, someone on the course had included this in their app. Aiming to reduce your waist measurement can have a huge impact on your metabolism. Controlling weight and waist size can even mean that a person no longer needs further interventions to control diabetes.

Once I have finished work on the literature review, and once I have moved on to usability testing on the course, I may have more to say. If you would like some help to manage your diabetes, would you use this sort of thing? What apps are you already using?

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