mHealth & user experience: the user decides

23 Feb
Marta Millaret - Elisa Puigdomènech - MWC2017
Marta Millaret and Elisa Puigdomènech

The Economist recently published an article in which they reported that the number of mobile health applications, or apps, was in the region of 165.000, a very high figure that poses many questions.

A large part of these apps are related to well-being and promoting healthy lifestyles, but what makes us choose one over another?

The first thing that comes to mind is that mobile health apps, being a health technology, could and should be assessed based on their impact on health and this is where we are faced with our first problem.

While there is a gold standard when assessing this impact in the area of medication and static interventions in randomized clinical trials, how is this impact assessed in a highly dynamic world? In a world that can include a range of components that users can use depending on their needs? Where pressure is added due to the fact that advances in technology are being made in leaps and bounds and we cannot wait for years before getting results? It is not that simple.

If we venture into the area of mHealth, the first thing we find is great diversity. The design, requirements and assessment of an app developed to help manage diabetes in older people is very different to an app aimed at providing a dose for some medication where improving its adherence is sought, or an app to promote not drinking alcohol among young people before sitting in the driver’s seat, or an app to manage depression and anxiety.

What are we trying to say with all this? Easy and complex at the same time: the intervention that one wants to do via a health app and the target users will determine their use and their adherence.

And we are only just beginning. Apart from aspects related to health and the suitability of content or other more technological factors such as interoperability and security -by no means simple-, other factors come onto the scene such as acceptability, usability and satisfaction, factors related to User Experience (UX).

User Experience in mHealth is essential given that the main aim of it all is to make the tools which are being developed viable, accepted and used by the population who they are meant for, and also that the aim for which they were designed be respected.

After all, the end user who has the last word in deciding whether a health app is used or not, and this is why their participation in all phases of developing these mHealth tools is crucial.

Pursuing these aims of feasibility, acceptability and usability can make us reflect on, for example, the difficulty some old-age people may have when learning to use a smartphone for the first time. However, these obstacles related to the generational factor also exist among young people with new languages.

We suggest let yourself surprised by this video that shows how some adolescents react and interact when using Windows 95 for the first time.

The Mobile World Congress 2017 will be taking place in Barcelona next week. Monday will be one of the days circled into the diary of many professionals interested in subjects on mobiles and health with the Digital Health & Welness Summit 2017 programme.

DWHW 2017

But not everything will be happening at the Mobile. Another important mHealth event will take place on March 1st at the Palau Robert in Barcelona with the DECIPHER project final event.

logo decipherTo be continued

Post written by Elisa Puigdomènech and Marta Millaret (@martamillaret).


Crisis and health: the opinion of some experts

16 Feb

In the next few weeks, a new report will be published by the Observatory on the effecs of the crisis in the health of the population, drafted at the Observatory of the Catalan Health System. Based on experience and with the aim of providing some things to reflect on at an individual and community level, we would like to share some words by Xavier Trabado, Angelina González Viana and Andreu Segura about the initiative that was begun three years ago (you can consult the 2014 and 2015 reports).

Crisi i salut

Xavier Trabado
Xavier Trabado

“Precarious employment, changes in the labor system, unemployment, evictions, debt, household instability and poverty directly affect the mental health of people. The latest Health Survey of Catalonia shows the percentage of people have some kind of risk for of mental health problems. To prevent this number from increasing and working for itstowards decrease reducing it we need programs supporting prevention, to better detect cases that could go unnoticed. It is essential to act in the initial stagesearly to prevent worsening situations  from getting worse, by providing support and appropriate tools. There are programs such as the one supporting primary care, which has been evaluated with very positive results, but not yet deployed on in the whole territory. The training of the primary care professionals allows for a quick and preventive approach, and an intervention  to provide solutions. Finally, the coordination between specialized and primary care resources is key to make making an initial diagnosis and to continue monitoring the  cases detected.  We need a change in the way healthcare services are provided, enabling and integrating the efforts of different work areas and professionals, providing tools to the affected person, seizing it , informing the family and accompanying them during the process through psycho-educational groups and support groups”. (Xavier Trabado is spokesperson for the Federation of Mental Health in Catalonia)

Angelina González Viana

“The report by the Observatory on the effects of the crisis on health highlights the communities which have borne the brunt of the crisis and how it has affected their health. It is urgent to initiate community health actions: actions in which the community is the protagonist and which are the transition from the attention given to an illness to a bio-psycho-social approach where these actions promote inter-sectorial work and that done in networks with local agents who share the aim of improving the welfare of the community. Based on the needs detected and then prioritised, with all involved participating, and having identified the local assets, these agents initiate interventions supported by evidence which are later assessed. Ultimately, community health is the application of all these policies at a local level.” (Angelina González Viana coordinates community projects such as COMSalut, at the general Sub-directorate for the Promotion of Health of the catalan Public Health Agency)

Andreu Segura
Andreu Segura

“The ongoing crisis has increased income inequality, income poverty and the risk of social exclusion. All this generates anxiety, distress and despair, mood disorders which are not unhealthy, at least initially , and healthcare services not cure . The health of the population has a lot to do with the living conditions of people and their ability to cope with the  ups and downs. Hence the importance of the level of education level and purchasing power – work, and pensions and subsidies, if needed – and other social support measures that make us feel part of a healthy community. The Interdepartmental Public Health of Catalonia wants to contribute to that purpose through via intersectoral actions to increase the efficiency of coordinated government and civil society initiatives of the government and civil society in all fields that have a significant influence on the health of individuals and the population as a whole.” (Andreu Segura was Secretary of the Interdepartmental Commission  for Public Health and coordinator of the COMSalut project. At present he is retired, is Spokesperson for the Public Health Advisory Board and for the Bioethical Committee of Catalonia)

If the you are interested in this subject, you can read more in this post which was published last year in connection with the previous report: Les polítiques públiques en temps de crisi.

Analysis of research data in health: opportunities within reach

9 Feb
Xavier Serra-Picamal
Xavier Serra-Picamal

The generation and storage of data is omnipresent nowadays. The costs have fallen drastically and the health sector is not alien to this. To illustrate this, it is worth having a look at the following graph created by the National Institutes of Health about the human genome, which shows the evolution of the cost of sequencing a genome:Cost per genome

As can be seen, since 2007, the cost of sequencing a genome has fallen dramatically. Having one’s own genome sequenced is now possible and in the future it may become commonplace. Bearing in mind that a copy of the human genome is made up of aproximately 3 million base pairs (3 million adeninines, thymines, citosines or guanines arranged sequentially in 23 chromosomes ) it is easy to infer that, also within this field, the quantity of data generated in the coming years will be massive.

This tendency is repeated in other areas of health care: among other, clinical history data in electronic format, medical imaging, primary care data or that of drug consumption are obtained and stored in registries, in general, structured and interlinked. The potential of this data for carrying out research in order to provide better health care is notable, in the way of faster and more accurate diagnoses, improved therapeutic approaches and a better management of the system.

To analyse the challenges and opportunities at a European level, a work session organised by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission was held in Luxembourg with representatives from AQuAS. The points discussed have been gathered in the article Making sense of big data in health research: Towards an EU action plan, published in the Genome Medicine magazine and of open access. As explained in the article, using this information to provide better healthcare is a challenge but a great opportunity at the same time.

Making sense of big data in health research

Nevertheless, a big effort is required to transform this data into knowledge and specific actions. However much the costs of generating and storing data may drop, the management of information, its interpretation, and the generation of knowledge needs considerable investment and resources. This means having adequate information systems as well as the economic and human resources so that the data can be treated efficiently and the protection of individual rights guaranteed. In addition, the participation, commitment and effective communication of all the agents of the system is needed (including the scientific community, patients, citizens, the administration, and so on) to guarantee that this data is used efficiently, responsibly and that it promotes research which is efficient and of quality.

Catalonia, because of the size of its population, the fact that it has an integrated health system and the work done over many years, is well positioned to be able promote the reuse of health data for research. At an international level, some comparable projects exist and new projects exist with the goal of integrating and consolidating data from different sources, with some very ambitious and attractive programmes. The  PADRIS Programme, presented last 12 January, aims to centralise and make the data generated in health available to researchers in research centres in Catalonia and universities so as to provide better healthcare with a maximum guarantee in security and privacy. The work to be done is considerable. The resources needed too. The opportunities to provide better research and better healthcare are within reach.

Post written by Xavier Serra-Picamal, researcher at the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).

* TERMCAT (the centre for terminology in the Catalan language) has recently dealt with the question of how to say data scientist in Catalan. The subject is very much a current issue!

Adjusted morbidity groups: a new population morbidity classifier

2 Feb
Foto Emili Vela
Emili Vela

At present, chronic pathologies have become a challenge for health systems in developed countries. The majority of sick people that use health services have multiple morbidity and this increases with age. The presence of multiple morbidity is associated with a greater use of resources for care (both health and social) and a lower quality of life.

In this context, it is necessary to measure multiple morbidity to be able to determine its impact. There are two large sets of measurements of multiple morbidity: on the one hand, a simple count of the diseases (usually chronic) of each person and, on the other, indexes which indicate the burden of an individual’s diseases based on the ranking of pathologies giving each one a differential weighting drawn from clinical criteria provided by groups of experts and/or statistical analysis based on mortality or the utilisation of health services.

The Adjusted Morbidity Groups (AMG) are encompassed in this last group, the only one of these tools developed in Europe on the basis of a public health system, universal in nature and eminently free.

Los grupos de morbilidad ajustados

The characteristics and functioning of the AMG can be found in this article. In a nutshell, we can say that the AMG have been validated statistically, by analysing their explanatory and predictive capacity. In this validation, the AMG have shown better results than other tools in the majority of indicators studied, including those relative to social and health care.

Concordancia y utilidad sistema estratificación

They have also been validated clinically by primary care doctors, both in Catalonia and in the Community of Madrid. The main results of these validations are that the AMG show a good classification of the patient in terms of risk, that this good classification increases with the complexity of the patient, the preference of clinicians for this tool with respect to other tools to classify morbidity and finally, that it is a useful tool for assigning a level of intervention in accordance with the needs of patients.

From 2012, the AMG were developed in the framework of an agreement of collaboration between CatSalut and Catalan Health Institute. Subsequently, they have been implemented at a national level in 13 autonomous communities thanks to an agreement reached between CatSalut and the Ministry of Health, Social and Equality Services. As a result of the implementations done during 2015, 38 million people of the Spanish population have been classified. The final goal of this agreement is to jointly develop a tool to stratify the population and which could be applicable to the entire National Health System by means of adapting the AMG.

Proposals enhanced health risk

Similarly, the AMG are being used in several European projects concerning the stratification and integration of health and social care.

In summary, we can assert that the AMG are a new classifier of morbidity which shows comparable results -at the very least- to those provided by other classifiers on the market. On the other hand, having been developed using the information from our health system (universal and eminently free), it can not only be adapted to new requirements or strategies of our organisations, but also to other health systems as well as to specific areas or populations. Evidence of this last point is that at the moment, together with the Master Plan of Mental Health and Addictions of the Health Department, a specific classifier is being developed for patients with mental health and addiction problems.

Post written by David Monterde (Oficina d’Estadística. Sistemes d’Informació. Institut Català de la Salut), Emili Vela (Àrea d’Atenció Sanitària. Servei Català de la Salut) and Montse Clèries (Àrea d’Atenció Sanitària. Servei Català de la Salut).