How UX is Important to Creating Digital Health Apps That Succeed?‍

Mansha Kapoor
May 1, 2023

Digital health interventions are specific and imperatives for preventing diseases and maintaining a good quality of life. They continue to grow as global concerns related to aging, child illness and mortality, pandemics and epidemics, high healthcare costs, and the effects of poverty continue to multiply. According to Deloitte, UK Centre for Health Solutions, 2020 saw an addition of 90,000 new digital health applications. Globally, more than 350,000 health apps are present in various app stores. But the contradiction lay in related downloads. There were merely 110 health apps that were downloaded 10 million times, accounting for almost half of all downloads. During the last count, there were 54,536 healthcare and medical apps on the Google Play Store, ballooning to 65,300 thousand in the previous quarter of 2021, according to Statista.

IVIA Institute for Human Data Science reports that a statistical survey on the number of downloads shows 83% of apps were installed less than 5000 times, which accounted for less than 1% of total downloads. If digital health apps are an approach to health issues, why are they deleted after downloading? Lets find out.

What is Healthcare UX?

When conceptualizing a healthcare app, the user experience design determines its value for users coupled with strong user engagement and retention. There have been instances where a bad UX design has resulted in terrible consequences. A shoddily designed glucometer had to be recalled because it had patients misreading their glucose levels. The problem lies in the design of the interface, and it had a usability issue. The decimal point was not pronounced enough, resulting in patients with vision issues being unable to adjust their insulin dosages correctly. This can be catastrophic, from severe hypoglycemia to diabetic coma or death.

However, an intuitive user experience can empower patients and successfully improve lives.  For instance, the smart tights for stroke patients combined with an easy-to-use app truly empowers patients and helps them rehabilitate and recuperate at home. 

It is important to note that a healthcare app is a concept that is multifaceted and many-layered. It includes a multitude of health and medicine-related digital products like:

  • Applications for remote patient consultation
  • Apps for patient interaction with their electronic medical records (EMR)
  • Apps for the recording and management of a patient’s vital signs
  • Apps that work as reminder alarms for medication adherence
  • Apps that check fitness quotient
  • Healthy lifestyle apps that check and remind users about daily water intake, sleep management, etc.

Although these apps are meant to take a load off the user's shoulders vis-à-vis health management and maintenance, lacunae in health app design make them quit the app altogether.   

Why do Digital Health apps fail?

Digital health apps empower people, changing the face of the healthcare industry, yet data reveals that over 90% of apps are used once and then deleted. Digital health apps are all about creating positive health changes and value adding to the users' quality of life but more often than not are for monitoring psychological parameters, a person’s mood, or collecting data. People search for an app because of a health issue. But they discover that these digital health apps are ineffective in bringing about a pivotal change in health outcomes. For example, an app meant to support women recouping from breast cancer surgery was found to increase postoperative anxiety and depression; another that was a rehabilitating intervention for alcoholism turned out to increase drinking, anxiety, and distress. It turned out that this was because of poor quality and gaps in software functionality.

There are categories of apps that focus on each stage of a patient’s journey. Some are for wellness management, in other words, for tracking and modifying lifestyle behaviors, and then there are those for health condition management. These are specifically for providing information on conditions to enable care. The most downloaded health apps assure help with weight loss management and dieting - free calorie counters and fitness trackers. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that out of 30 popular weight loss apps, 25% had nothing to do with lifestyle issues - meaning they were ineffective. The app's failure could be attributed to a lack of research by app developers regarding the role of behavioral strategies and nutrition in weight loss. 

The availability of requirement-specific apps translates into hyperactive usage, but studies and data reveal otherwise. So despite the apparent benefits of these apps, there are barriers, other than the one cited by the researchers from the Massachusetts medical school, to digital health app uptake by individuals. These are accounted for under the head of sociotechnical challenges, misalignment between design and user needs, older adults facing specific challenges concerning access and uptake of digital health tools, lack of language proficiency, lower socioeconomic status, or culturally not tailored for use by a particular population. And most important of all, old habits that refuse to die if the app is not engaging enough. Old habits nudge the user to keep returning to his comforting way of visiting his physician rather than recording and sending data for remote diagnosis.  Keeping all these in purview, implementing health apps would require understanding and addressing barriers and facilitators. 

How does UX decide the success or failure of digital health apps?

According to a Statista Report, the global digital health app market was estimated to value USD 23 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow to USD 190 billion by 2025. The World Health Organization has also emphatically underlined “patient empowerment” in its Health Policy Framework, which indirectly supports more patient control through increased use of mHealth applications.

However, a recent survey carried out by Accenture, across 1800 people in the United States, revealed the conditions which would motivate the patients to use mHealth: the users showed inclination only if there was adequate customer support (i.e., brand association) if a health provider recommended it (i.e., perceived quality) and if these technologies helped them receive comprehensive health reports (i.e., helpful motivation). In short, a digital health app should faithfully fulfill the principles of its genesis - predictive, preemptive, and personalized.

A User Experience or UX can make or mar a digital health app. It has two aspects to it that need to be taken into account when going into product development. These would be Pragmatic Quality (efficiency and effectiveness) and Hedonic Quality (aesthetics, feelings of pleasure or interest). A UX is used in developing an app that meets user preference, and measurement of UX shows that impact and ease of use are two features that decide the success of an app. 

What are the considerations for designing a good Digital Healthcare App UX?

When designing a healthcare app, “we need to consider that we have a vast group of users, with different capacities, from visual acuity to physical ability,” Sofia Gomes, a reviewer of healthcare apps, has to say. The best digital healthcare apps have things in common that make a guideline for others to follow. This is a balanced combination of Pragmatic and Hedonic qualities, and both have to be well-balanced to ensure user retention. Generally, the UI houses Hedonic qualities to draw the user, and then the Pragmatic qualities step in to retain them.

1. Simple Navigation

A confused user who is looking for answers needs to have detailed and customized feedback. Making him skim through endless search results loaded with myths and myriad possibilities makes the user suffer bouts of anxiety. If defined into clear sections, the main page would help in easy navigation. These sections could be 

  1. Happy to help you
  2. Health Diary
  3. Plans for personal health

And more according to the proposed design of the app.

A bottom navigation menu facilitates the user to change modes quickly. This tool allows the user to get quick feedback on a wide range of symptoms and tests or even get an answer to a question. 

2. Legibility

A perfect balance has to be struck between font size and other elements. A typeface with clear open forms that have been optimized for web and mobile interfaces has excellent legibility and a friendly appearance. 

3. Simplicity of UI design

A clear, simple-to-understand UI design that does not challenge the digital literacy of the users is what will retain users. If it is too complicated or demands knowledge of technology and software, it becomes an instrument for the erudite. In this case, it will not serve users who want to use it as a convenience tool. It is as Richard Branson said, “Complexity is your enemy…it is hard to keep things simple.” 

What are the best practices for designing a successful UX for a health app?

In recent years, health apps have become increasingly popular among individuals looking to track and manage their health and wellness. However, with so many options available, it's crucial for health app designers to focus on delivering a seamless and effective user experience (UX). A well-designed UX can not only help users achieve their health goals, but also promote engagement and retention. To achieve this, designers must incorporate several best practices into their design process. These best practices include ensuring the app is easy to use and visually appealing, making it accessible to all users, providing personalized and relevant content, and equipping users with the tools they need to track their progress and make meaningful changes to their health behaviors. Lets explore each of these best practices in more detail, providing tips and strategies for designing a successful UX for a health app.

Comprehensive Research about the target audience

This is the first step to prototyping an app interface. A thorough understanding of who the target audience is and its geographical, socio-demographic, and psychological characteristics will decide the comprehensibility of the app. No app can cater to everyone. However hard the designer might try. A user’s interaction with an app depends upon individual interests and capabilities. So a few probing questions about the target audience, their likes and inclinations, and their preferences regarding apps will help guide the UX design of a digital healthcare app. 

A healthcare app is used by a patient's healthcare giver or a doctor. The needs of all these differ vastly in functionality and UI design. Medical personnel would require EHR or EMR, medication specifics, recommendations for diagnostics and therapy, reference records, etc. Patients could be older people or people with disabilities and deficiencies. They need to have interaction that is based on minimum information yet clearly understandable. Corresponding knowledge and conclusions is the only way to construct an app.

Simplicity and Clarity

An ordinary user logs into a healthcare app to find solutions to his medical or health-related issues. But you can get frustrated when the app is unwieldy and unmanageable, and instructions are not broken into small tips. The colors could be hurting, harsh, or so muted to throw fields into relief. It is best to use colors associated with the healthcare industry that ease anxiety and give credibility.  A good form design is also a deciding feature as it will utilize passive inputs, autocomplete, and dynamically validate field values. These facilities will limit the user's information to key in and comfort the user. Medicine on its own is a complicated discipline, and when its UI is made detailed and difficult to understand, its purpose stands defeated. 

Authentic Medical Information

Medical information embedded in the digital healthcare app should be sourced through specialists and experts in their respective fields. Content that is erroneous or incomplete is unacceptable.

Applying Pareto’s Principle

The Pareto principle says that 80% of the users do not use more than 20% of the app functionalities (features), so clutter should be avoided at all costs. The home screen should house the app's main function and not add multiple features to challenge an ordinary user. As with old apps, new features are added until only superusers can make sense of them. 

Quick Navigational Structure

A 3-click rule says that the required information should be available to the user within three transitions. An app is readily downloaded and retained if there is speed and ease of use. The app should be quickly working for a practitioner because they invest time in dealing with EHR ( electronic health records) and would not be inclined to work their way through involved apps. A survey by Stanford Medicine found that 62% of the time devoted by a doctor to each patient is spent studying his EHR. Concerning the patient, the critical information, if not on the surface accompanied by quick navigation, pushes him towards exploring other apps.

Option of personalization

There has to be customization options that make a user feel unique. These would range from color themes, notifications, interactive elements, and more. It is all about functionality getting adapted to a specific user pattern. The goal is to help the user sort his problem quicker.

Trouble-Free Accessibility

Digital healthcare apps are for people with health issues. These could be optical, hearing, age, physical and psychological. Their limitations must be anticipated and negativities neutralized; for example, a user with motion sickness would not appreciate animated features. It is advised that mobile accessibility best practices are kept in view. Under this, the main elements are put in the thumb zone, and options to change the view to horizontal mode are worked in. The text can also be enlarged and made reader-friendly. 

Positivity in UX

A user seeking medical help could always use pleasant and positive emotions. So Images and icons in healthcare user interface design could have uplifting motivational messages, funny pictures, or bright colored tones to make their experience enjoyable and less intimidating.

Differences in Apps and websites

Digital health apps are primarily integrated with smartphone features like an accelerometer and camera, which makes them different from the UI design of the websites. Websites are used to get information and apps to get a job done. Therefore, interaction with a digital app differs from working on a laptop or a desktop. It comes out that UI design should be kept from the web version of the product. 

Active user involvement

The practical value of testing usability is found when all the behavioral scenarios in the application and interaction patterns are carried out through user involvement. For this, a relevant testing audience closest to the target audience must be chosen in age, occupation, geographical location, gender, and cultural and religious background. The closer it is, the greater the chances of its success.


Health and medicine is a susceptible and intimidating subject that needs meticulous attention. Designers of Digital health apps must keep balancing the high safety and usability requirements with the aesthetics of their interface. The app has to be captivating, user-friendly, have splendid functionality, and not have a gloomy appearance. An excellent medical app cannot contain mistakes and must be engaging enough for the users, for the primary purpose of the UX design is to increase traffic to the app and retain it.

Mahalo Health is a comprehensive healthcare platform that provides patients with access to personalized, quality healthcare services from the comfort of their own homes. With Mahalo Health, patients can schedule appointments with healthcare providers, access telemedicine services, and receive personalized treatment plans. Our team of experienced healthcare professionals is dedicated to providing compassionate care and improving health outcomes for our clients. Don't wait any longer to take control of your health – sign up for Mahalo Health's services today and experience the convenience and quality care you deserve.

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