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5 Factors for PROMs App Design
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Five Critical Factors for Patient Reported Outcome Application Design

Like so much else about healthcare, technology has transformed how the medical community thinks about patient-reported outcomes (PROs) — information about a patient's health that comes directly from the patient. From the way we collect information to how we are able to use that information, technology — especially of the mobile variety — has enhanced the potential of PROs to improve patient care and data collection. Even as PROs become a more commonplace part of healthcare, it’s important to remember their origins, and let that shape how we use — and design — PRO surveys in digital applications.

Once the domain of researchers looking to collect evaluative data, PROs are now a staple in patient care. However, their origins mean practitioners and patients often find PRO usability lacking. Designed more to track outcomes over time than as patient and clinical support tools, it’s imperative to keep this in mind when utilizing them in healthcare settings. Careful consideration and good design can solve these pain points, making PROs a valuable tool to inform patients and practitioners alike.

Five concepts for successful PRO design

  1. Meaning — Whether you’re designing for patients or practitioners, the ability to clearly label outputs is integral to success. Both clinicians and patients need to be able to clearly understand the scores. Your cut points — or score ranges — need to convey exactly what they mean. This is often done visually — especially for patient-facing applications — through color-coded thermometers or other easy-to-understand charts.
  2. Context — When it comes to PROs, context is everything. Are patients scoring higher or lower than their peers or other people with their particular disease? This kind of context helps clinicians understand what action needs to be taken, and allows patients to understand what their scores truly mean. Some patients want to know how they compare to others, while some prefer to know how this week’s scores compare to last week’s. Either way, it’s important to provide them with this information in a way that is easy to understand.
  3. Change — One of the great advantages of administering PRO surveys through apps is that it makes it possible to easily track results over time. Instead of relying on in-office visits to collect information, patients can fill out surveys on their phones or computers. This allows practitioners to get more frequent updates on any meaningful change. What is considered “meaningful change” may evolve based on the disease or individual patient, but when it is achieved, systems can be programmed to alert healthcare providers.
  4. Simplicity — Good design makes an application easy to use, and is especially important when it comes to PROs. If patients can’t — or won’t — use an app, then it is essentially useless. Usability testing can help you ensure taking your survey is as easy as possible, but this often means eliminating barriers to entry. Making it easy to sign in — or not requiring sign-in at all — paired with visually compelling, simple question and answer modules will allow you to collect as much data as possible.
  5. Timing — How often you ask for information can be as important as how you ask for it. Collecting PROs digitally may enable more continuous data collection, but it’s important to schedule recurring follow-ups at a time frame that makes sense for individual measures and conditions. For instance, tracking daily pain makes sense, however, daily surveys about anxiety may inadvertently exacerbate the condition. Close tracking after a procedure may be called for, but it should taper off as patients recover.

One last thing: Interoperability

A well-designed PRO collection app can enable better completion rates, more follow-up, and ultimately generate more data about the long-term efficacy of treatments for clinical informatics teams. However, the key to extracting benefit from any healthcare app is, increasingly, FHIR compliance.

The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) has emerged as a solution to interoperability challenges in healthcare technology. FHIR protocol allows developers to join disparate systems together and link systems that would have otherwise been unable to communicate, and our apps are all built with this in mind. To learn more about the importance of FHIR in digital healthcare, read our post “Why Your Digital Healthcare App Needs to be FHIR Compliant.”

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