The recognition of technology as a tenet of effective chronic disease care has led to an explosion of consumer-based health information technology (HIT) products such as Personal Health Records, disease management apps, and web enabled diagnostic and monitoring devices. As these technologies extend the continuum of care beyond the doctor's office into people's homes, they can play a significant role in reducing healthcare costs and improving the quality of care. Nevertheless, the potential value of consumer HIT has yet to be realized as widespread adoption has posed a significant challenge.
The less than impressive adoption of consumer HIT is in stark contrast to the global diffusion of other consumer information technologies like Facebook, Netflix, eBay, and myriad other household names. While the challenges and barriers to diffusion of HIT tools may be more complex than those faced by eBay and Netflix the consumer health IT industry can learn valuable lessons from these companies.
One such lesson relates to the use of algorithms to improve the user experience. In interviews with some of the world's most highly diffused technology companies, HITLAB learned that nearly all of them use algorithms to improve user experience and increase the amount of time consumers spend using their applications. In a well known example, Netflix uses algorithms to customize their content and create personalized genres and categories of films such as Sentimental Romantic Comedies Based on a Book and Feel-good Opposites Attract Movies that are tailored to the unique preferences of the user. The highly customized nature of Netflix’s content, organization, and user recommendations result in a site that varies significantly from user to user. These personalization technologies are now responsible for 60 percent of the rentals from the site. In many ways, personalization algorithms have contributed to the widespread diffusion and commercial success of their products.
Rather than developing a single platform to which all users must conform, developers of consumer health information technologies should create solutions such as Netflix that are adaptive and evolve with the changing needs and preferences of the user. For example, consider a single mobile application that begins providing wellness coaching for a pre-diabetic user, then evolves in functionality as the user goes on to develop diabetes, then cardiovascular disease, and ultimately experience major complications of her conditions. Additionally, health and wellness information should be tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of the individual. By considering the disease state, occupation, schedule, location, and preferences of the user, health and wellness recommendations are much more likely to be valued and implemented than overarching recommendations that apply broadly.
In an industry riddled with user adoption challenges, certainly there are lessons in user adoption from Silicon Valley that can be applied to consumer HIT. The greater use of personalization algorithms is one such example. By personalizing content to the unique needs and preferences of users and placing a greater emphasis on the user experience, consumer HIT developers are likely to benefit from greater adoption of their technologies.