New website helps make eHealth tools usable for all
eHealth tools can offer a solution to the glaring shortage of healthcare personnel. But not everyone has the technical skills to get started with these tools. That is why PhD candidates Jasper Faber and Isra Al-Dhahir have developed a website for eHealth tool developers to get practical information on building such a tool, with the aim of closing the growing health gap. "Think practical tips, do's and don'ts."
Geert, 46, has been unable to work for several years due to his weak heart. With his disability benefit, he is just getting by. Last week, he underwent heart surgery. Everything went well, but now he has to wait eight weeks until the start of the rehabilitation programme. Geert feels somewhat helpless during this period. Due to the care staff shortage, he is offered an eHealth help tool to guide him during this period. But he does not find it easy to use, so he soon abandons the tool.
A growing gap
"Geert is not the only one in a situation where he isn’t able to use an eHealth tool," says Jasper Faber, PhD candidate at the TU Delft | Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE). "People with a low social economic position (SEP) live on average seven years shorter than people with a high SEP. Due to lack of help or knowledge, they get sick faster and enter the healthcare system earlier. The gap further widens due to less technical skills to work with digital tools."
People with a low social economic position (SEP) live on average seven years shorter than people with a high SEP.― Jasper Faber
That is why researchers Isra Al-Dhahir, PhD candidate in the Health, Medical and Neuropsychology section at Leiden University and Jasper Faber developed a website for eHealth developers to get advice at any stage of a tool's development: 'The inclusive eHealth Handreiking'. For this, Japer and Isra work closely together within the scientific programme 'eHealth & self-management for a healthy society' of the Medical Delta partnership.
The site, created partly with the support of ZonMW and the Hartstichting, collects practical tips, do's and don'ts. No vague advice but tips based on practical examples. As well as suggestions on how to get in touch with other organisations. "Don't expect a roadmap," Jasper explains. "Because every tool is in a different phase, every target group is different, every developer has different goals."
In search of practical info
During their literature review on the gap between eHealth applications and people with low SEP, the researchers discovered something curious. Isra: "While we came across an abundance of general information, there was a striking lack of specific insights that could help professionals fine-tune and better tailor eHealth interventions to the low SEP group."
To fill the knowledge gap, Isra involved experts in her research. Think medical professionals, psychologists, project staff, developers. "I asked 28 professionals about the promoting and hindering factors when developing a tool," she says.
While we came across an abundance of general information, there was a striking lack of specific insights that could help professionals fine-tune and better tailor eHealth interventions to the low SEP group.― Isra Al-Dhahir
Meanwhile Jasper delved into the world of the user. "Designers bridge the gap between people and technology. That is why I visited community centres in Rotterdam South for two years to get to know the people there, build trust and involve them in my research. It was a two-way street. In exchange for their insights, I organised community activities. During the COVID lockdowns, for instance, I introduced the Ommetje app, which challenges you to move outdoors. Those who participated got a home workout kit."
The introduction of this simple app proved a great success, confirming the researchers' suspicions. "This group is very positive about tools that can help improve health. Most would like to live long and healthy lives. Contrary to the stereotypical images that sometimes circulate."
Now we want to further develop the website. For instance, there should be more concrete examples, more 'how-to's' in it.― Isra Al-Dhahir
A living site
"Now we want to further develop the website," Isra says. "For instance, there should be more concrete examples, more 'how-to's' in it. It should be a living website. It is very motivating that everyone we worked with recognises the health gap between population groups and wants to do something about it. That is why we will continue working on this project, because we sincerely believe that we can make a positive contribution."
Suppose you want to motivate people to use a weight loss app. One of the pieces of advice on the site is to use influencers, such as experienced experts or peers:
- Make sure the people you want to reach trust these influencers
- Determine in advance the roles of the influencers. Who is the educator, connector, translator?
- On Pharos you can find which relevant influencers are active in your neighbourhood and how to get in touch with them