In 2009, Apple’s iPhone 3 ad campaign pronounced to the world: “there’s an app for that.” A decade later, we know that to be all too true. There is an app for just about everything, including mental health and well-being. In fact, this app segment is one of the fastest-growing categories, not surprising given our collective stress levels thanks to the pandemic, the economic crisis and, of course, the election.
Recently an economics professor at Stanford University studying the future of work found that after nine months of allowing employees to do their jobs at home, half of them wanted to go back, despite their average commute being 40 minutes each way. Why? Simply because they miss their co-workers, reporting feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression at home. And depending on who wins on Election Day, it’s likely either outcome will lead some to consider their mental health and try one of the many apps available.
Further evidence can be found in a University of Oregon randomized, controlled trial conducted with 221 first-year college students found that four weeks of app use prevented loneliness and depression among those students most at risk at the start of the year. Additionally, the study (published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health), found similar patterns of improved outcomes for sleep quality, campus belonging, social support and intention to return to college among students who used apps compared to those who were in a control group.
So it’s clear mental health apps have the power to help, offering a gateway to treatment that some might resist. The question then becomes not so much about whether or not apps can help one's mental health, but rather how do we make them better.
Looking around the healthcare industry, social impact ventures and innovation centers within hospitals, we are seeing big investments into technology such as apps and website wellness platforms. However, with this new digital solutions investment, it’s crucial you create an engaging experience that delivers true value and utility to the user and accomplishes the job it was intended to.
When you take something that has traditionally been administered in a resource-intensive clinical setting and turn it into a digital experience that could be done from the comfort of a user’s home, you have the opportunity to tap into some real emotion and give those who might not seek out a traditional therapist experience a stake in their own mental health through a digital experience. Creating compelling content - whether via higher-end productions or even gamification - combined with a well-designed user experience, is what will get those who need help not just coming through the digital office door one time, but keep coming back.
So what are the four key components to designing a digital health experience that will set it and the user up for long-term impact and success:
1. Narrow Your Focus. Human behavior is a very complex topic and it makes sense to have a medical expert or clinician at the table when you are designing a solution. The best apps are narrowly focused on an objective with a clear understanding of what job the innovation needs to accomplish. The best solutions are co-developed with topic experts and built upon impact pathways that will lead to the desired outcome.
2. User-Centered Design Process. The best processes commit to following a human-centered design approach that includes co-creation, collaboration, prototyping and real-world testing with the people who will be using the app. If you don’t involve actual users to get input, feedback and buy-in, you will miss the mark.
3. Don’t Discount UX. Most medical interventions have historically completely ignored design, resulting in tools that are laborious, boring and frustrating to the user. The app experience needs an elegant, engaging and rewarding user experience, just as fresh, friendly and well-designed as today’s most popular consumer apps.
4. Good Creative Matters. It may be a medical app but creativity is still essential. Solutions must be properly branded, packaged and promoted to potential users to drive awareness, trial and adoption. Agency creativity and design is still important to craft a strong brand, tone and visual language for the app and campaign. The service design and marketing program needs to be strategic, creative, and well-produced to ensure the app can be successfully promoted at every touchpoint with the audience.
When this all comes together, your team can create a solution and leverage the power of digital to address the growing demand for mental health and well-being tools that help people live healthier lives no matter who the new President is come January.