Patients with Asthma often fail to routinely self-monitor their symptoms, even though it’s critical to their health.
Design a mobile app that allows and encourages Asthma patients to regularly monitor their symptoms and get up-to-date information.
Asthma has affected more than 230 million people worldwide. It is a common chronic disease of the inflammation of the airways in the lungs and affects approximately 25.9 million Americans. The numbers are increasing daily and gradually causing a major burden worldwide on all aspects of the global healthcare system. The World Health Organization (WHO) is making major updates to its Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA); the plan calls for more focused clinical practices with easy and clearer language to assist self-monitoring and assessment.
Doctors work with patients to create personalized Asthma action plans, which requires the patient to pay attention to their own symptoms. The “peak flow” test, for example, measures how fast a patient can breathe out. Keeping track of peak flow is important as it can alert the patients when their symptoms are worsening, requiring the use of reliever inhaler or a visit to seek medical help.
Despite a need to self-monitor, many patients don’t routinely self-monitor their symptoms. While there are some mobile apps that assist Asthma patients, a leading app has yet to emerge that provides both self-monitoring tools and useful up-to-date information.
Research findings & analysis
In order to empathize with Asthmatic patients and offer effective design recommendations for a new app, I needed to understand the barriers that currently existed for these patients.
I wanted to learn how patients deal with their Asthma today and if they used mobile apps to help with their action plans. My research included background reading and the creation of an interview guide. I then ran a survey, interviewed patients, and called an Asthma counseling hospital to speak to medical professionals about self-monitoring techniques.
After processing the data and materials, I pulled out some important quotes and facts to serve as key patient insights:
- Most Asthmatic patients have known about their chronic disease since they were teenagers. While doctors advise patients to track their peak flow and symptoms, most patients still do not keep accurate records or have an action plan. Since the Asthma attack comes and goes, patients are sometimes lazy or noncommittal, skipping days of monitoring symptoms.
- Most patients do not visit doctors regularly. When things are going well, patients stop taking medications and don’t check in with their doctor. They only seek medical help whenever an Asthma attack occurs.
- There aren’t many apps out there that combine information and supportive tools for self-management. Although people use wearable devices to exercise or track other medical information, a similar concept has yet to catch on for Asthma treatment. It could be that patients feel there’s too much data to enter, or don’t think it will have a great impact on their health.
The problems that lie beneath
- There is no denying that some patients keep good records, while others are passive when it comes to coping with Asthma. (Note: I am basing my observations strictly on my research findings.)
- Though certain numbers of Asthma patients were diagnosed at an early age, the findings showed that many patients still form a gap of knowledge in how to tackle the illness. There’s a disconnect between what doctors advise and what patients actually do to get the Asthma under control.
I wanted to nurture a habit for Asthmatic people to easily monitor and track their peak flow and symptoms. The app should also provide up-to-date information and tools to help patients accomplish these tasks.
I used a storyboard to generate a list of requirements for this mobile app. Since Asthma tracking is a daily task, I decided to form it conventionally like a to-do list; that became the starting point of the app concept.
In order for patients to want to use this app, I wanted the UI to be very simple and user-friendly. Since patients need to use it every day, I wanted users to open the app and experience comfortable and warm feelings; this required some consideration to find the right color palette and typography.
The app should serve as a reminder and alert to monitor and track symptoms. Patients tend to stop taking medications when they are feeling OK; in doing so, they’re overlooking the fact that medications help clear the airways and act as an anti-inflammatory defense against the Asthma.
It’s critical that patients do not neglect medications and symptom tracking, because some Asthma attacks are fatal. When the patient’s peak flow value has dropped, it sends out an alert; this is often a sign that a potential Asthma attack is coming.
Focus the patient on the important tasks. Some apps provide users with multiple functions, but I wanted to focus solely on the critical tasks that the patients need to complete on a daily basis.
If a patient has too many tasks or too many data inputs to complete, there’s a risk that they will ignore the crucial tasks (e.g. peak flow) or leave the app altogether.
By keeping records of peak flow, along with symptoms and triggers, users can develop a habit. They’ll be able to see their statistics in graphs, which makes it easier to observe the attack pattern and have more control over their Asthma.
To motivate and educate users, I aim to keep it entertaining and educational. It’s important that patients exercise often to improve their Asthma condition rather than letting the disease hinder their activity. The app will feature entertaining and educational activity challenges. For example, a patient can read a card explaining how swimming will help their Asthma. Then, the patient can accept a challenge to swim at least 3 times a week. The user earns a trophy in the app once the challenge is complete.
From this UI kit, it unifies the vision with all elements involved that creates the brand identity. The color palette here with less saturation is to create a more soothing feeling. Colors affect emotions. Emotions affect Asthmatic users too. I keep mindful in choosing colors so that they don’t disturb nor distract users while I still manage to maintain a bright image with a delight when it’s launched.
The card style takes a main presence in the app which makes it easy to check on different activities, tip card and similar information if needed without feeling confused.
User Testing Feedback
I built an inVision prototype of the app and tested it with a few Asthmatic patients. I’d ideally test it with more patients, and iterate on the design, prior to moving to development.
The test subjects were curious about the entire app, but I broke the test into specific tasks that patients would need to complete. For example, one task asked users, “Where would you go if you wanted to record your peak flow?”
The patients had overall positive feedback about the app:
It is the first time I see an app. so easy to understand, and also useful to record the symptoms and follow them.
As an asthmatic myself this app is like godsend for me. The design is very intuitive, makes me feel right at home. That makes me want to use it and doesn’t feel like a chore. Knowing that this app exists is a comforting thought for every asthmatic out there.
Asthma is a broad subject to understand. It took a while to learn the relevant background knowledge (including gaps in the current treatment process) needed for effective design.
I learned quickly that it’s important to include realistic content in the design so that it’s easier to visualize the app’s design elements. I iterated through several designs, checking to see if the design met user needs. This was challenging and time-consuming, but rewarding: the end result was an app that accomplished all major goals and functional objectives.