Mobile healthcare, telemedicine, telehealth, BYOD


How Patient Demographics Affect mHealth Tool Usability

Younger patients with more health IT experience tend to have higher rates of mHealth usability, according to researchers.

By Sara Heath

- mHealth treatments for diabetes patients may be effective, but only the patient fits certain criteria.


In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, researchers Mattias Georgsson and Nancy Staggers investigated the usability of mHealth diabetes interventions based off on patients’ task performance and satisfaction.

After introducing 10 patients to an mHealth diabetes tool through a standardized training course, Georgsson and Staggers assessed the efficiency and effectiveness with which the patients used the technology. Using a set of usability standards, the researchers specifically examined the number of errors patients made performing five different tasks tasks and the amount of time they spent completing them.

Overall, patients struggled the most with tasks three and four, which called for correcting a glucose measurement value and exporting a glucose value. These tasks had 30 percent and 40 percent failure rates, respectively. Tasks one, two, and five – sending a measurement value, interpreting a glucose measurement value, and interpreting a blood pressure measurement value – were completed with ease by all study participants.

Georgsson and Staggers noted that the low rate of usability for tasks three and four may be due to the difficulty of the task, user issues, or design flaws within the system.

“These two tasks were more complex, requiring several steps, while tasks 1 and 5 were more straightforward, with only one step each,” the researchers explained. “Another possible reason is that this usability test assessed users while they were still practicing these new, more complex tasks.”

Despite the mixed usability results, study participants gave the mHealth technology an average satisfaction rating of 80.5 out of 100. This average satisfaction score was composed of a wide range of scores, with the lowest being 62.5 and the highest being 97.5 out of 100. Additionally, nearly two thirds of study participants gave a qualitative satisfaction rating of “OK.”

Georgsson and Staggers state that this wide range of satisfaction scores indicates a need for better system design, specifically to make certain tasks easier and more intuitive.

“The results indicate areas for system improvements,” the pair said. “For example, users were confused about the multiple steps and current, nonintuitive steps in Tasks 3 and 4. Although this task ought to be straight-forward, the current design is not, requiring users to navigate to different areas of the system to delete and enter new values. Clearly, the multiple steps can be streamlined, so this usability test presented objective data about these current, cumbersome tasks.”

This varying range of usability and satisfaction scores may also be the result of a diverse study population. The researchers found that certain kinds of patients were better at using the mHealth tool than others.

Male patients and those with more IT experience tended to fare better with the mHealth tool than others. Additionally, younger patients had higher performance scores than other patients. This differences in user demographics show that system designers must target certain mHealth tools toward different kinds of users.

“These trends point to problematic areas, especially for users with specific characteristics. Therefore, designers may also need to tailor interactions for targeted users; for example, older, less experienced users,” Georgsson and Staggers wrote.

By designing mHealth tools with certain patient demographics in mind, health IT developers can help improve not only usability scores for the tools, but satisfaction scores as well. Georgsson and Staggers found that patients who were faster at completing tasks also had fewer errors when performing them. Likewise, those patients who were faster and more effective at using the tools reported higher satisfaction levels.

“Results across the examined performance and satisfaction variables were congruent, although this is not always the case in usability studies,” the researchers said. “That is, participants who completed tasks more successfully were also faster and committed fewer errors. Those who performed better had higher satisfaction scores.”


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