Designing Health Apps to Close Health Gaps

July 14, 2016

​By: Jennifer Lee, Senior Health Policy Communications Specialist, Women's College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care

In Canada, nearly 94,000 people are living with Multiple Sclerosis and women are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed compared to men. Women with MS can also face a unique set of challenges related to pregnancy, breast feeding, menstruation, menopause or just managing overall health.

While there are a range of health apps available on the market, and some estimates now say there are over 165,000, the unique needs of women are often not considered in apps geared to helping them manage MS. Taking a closer look at the design and impact of digital health tools is part of the important work now happening at the WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV).

WIHV researcher Janessa Griffith decided to shift the focus, designing a set of app features that could help close the Health Gap for women with MS. Griffith says she is, "interested in developing apps that are inclusive to all users, and tailoring content where appropriate is an important step."

While women with MS can experience fluctuations in symptoms during menstruation, she designed a calendar feature that allows them to track their cycle to predict and manage symptoms. Many current available treatments are also not advised for women who are trying to conceive, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Since the average age of onset for MS is typically between the ages of 28 and 30, aligning closely with the national average for when women give birth to their first child, she designed a set of links to current tips and information on this issue.

For conditions like osteoporosis that are more prevalent amongst women, having MS can add to the risk of developing the condition if they have taken steroid treatments or had issues with mobility. In response, Griffith built in a feature to send users a reminder to talk to their physician about getting a bone density scan.

Designing health apps that closely reflect what the research says about specific diseases and conditions is an important part of ensuring that patients maximize their benefits. While Griffith is doing this work in other disease areas, the team at WIHV is evaluating a suite of health apps over the next year that should produce some surprising results.

For the latest on the cutting edge research currently advancing health system solutions, follow @wchwihv on Twitter. To hear the latest on Women's College Hospital's Health Gap campaign, follow #healthgap.

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