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Using a User-Centered Design Approach to Create an mHealth App for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Mobile health (“mHealth”) technology affords patients the opportunity to get the medical expertise they need without a physical visit to a practitioner’s office or a run to the emergency room, saving both time and money. But, for it to be truly worthwhile, the technology must be accessible to patients and simple enough to navigate. Otherwise, patients are not going to view it as a benefit, thus rendering it useless.

Taking this into consideration, a team of communication scientists, computer scientists and clinicians, led by Dr. Janice Krieger, professor in the Advertising Department and director of the University of Florida’s STEM Translational Communication Center (STCC), used principles of user-centered design to develop a medical mobile app that meets the needs of patients. The process was described in a paper led by Dr. Lauren Griffin, an STCC post-doctoral associate. A widely used medical mobile device app could prevent hospitals, insurance carriers, and patients from contending with the excessive waste of financial and personnel resources.

The team developed a mobile app focused on colorectal cancer (CRC) screening among patients aged 50 years and older. CRC is the second leading cause of cancer death among Americans and preventative screening is readily available.

The researchers and community participants collaborated to develop the app, garnering feedback from users throughout the development process and making adjustments. The key component was taking into consideration patient needs, wants, and concerns.

The resulting mobile app uses virtual human technology to educate users about CRC and walk them through the process of conducting a screening procedure called fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) themselves. An annual FIT screening is already recommended for the study’s age group and is believed to be as effective as a colonoscopy in detecting CRC. Using the mobile app, and with the help of a virtual healthcare provider, patients collect a stool sample themselves and send it to a laboratory to test for microscopic blood that may indicate a tumor or a polyp.

While the success of mHealth apps is largely contingent on external factors such medical environments and patient characteristics, the CRC app is designed to increase users’ interest in learning more about FIT.  Dr. Krieger, Dr. Griffin, and their team are now in the process of conducting a clinical trial to test whether well-designed medical mobile apps can influence patient behavior and encourage preventative care.

The original research paper, “Creating an mHealth App for Colorectal Cancer Screening: User-Centered Design Approach,” appeared in JMIR Human Factors journal, published on May 8, 2019.

Authors: Lauren Griffin, PhD, Donghee Lee, doctoral student, and Alyssa Jaisle, PhD , UF STEM Translational Communication Center; Peter Carek, MD, MS, Department of Community Health and Family Medicine, University of Florida; Thomas George, MD, FACP, Division of Oncology, College of Medicine, University of Florida; Eric Laber, PhD, Statistics Department, North Carolina State University; Benjamin Lok, PhD ; Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, University of Florida; François Modave, PhD ; Center for Health Outcomes and Informatics Research, Loyola University; Electra Paskett, PhD, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Department of Internal Medicine, The Ohio State University; Janice Krieger, PhD, director, UF STEM Translational Communication Center.

 This summary was written by Dr. Dana Hackley.

Posted: July 2, 2019
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