Step by step, digital agencies are making the world around us a little cleverer. This ‘smartification’ goes beyond bits and bites… It involves facilitating people and their needs. So how does this work? ‘The Smartifiers’ is a series of case studies in which Dutch Digital Agencies members illustrate what smartification looks like in practice.
Can an app improve the help given to chronically ill people? Can it ensure patients take the right medication at the right time? Will their wellbeing improve if they have more control over their own situation? Internist and infection specialist Joop Arends (UMC Utrecht) and his colleague Guido van den Berk (OLVG) asked themselves these questions with regards to their HIV patients. They contacted digital agency E-sites from Breda (NL) to develop the ‘Happi’ health app. This gives HIV patients information, comfort and the confidence to deal with their disease, ultimately providing them with a healthier life. Roy Niemantsverdriet, Head of Sales & Marketing at E-sites, explains how this unique app was developed.
What we’re talking about here of course is patient empowerment, and it’s not just HIV sufferers who are benefitting from the concept. At the time of writing in 2021, Happi is also supporting patients with skin disease (Happi Huid) and haematology patients (Happi Hematologie). They will be joined in the summer by people with liver disease (Happi Lever). All apps are spin-offs from a single starting point, developed by doctors in close cooperation with patients.
“One of the main pitfalls is that we, as non-patients, determine what a patient should know and do,” says Niemantsverdriet. “And that’s not how it should work. Ensuring that the app meets the needs of patients and health care users requires having a constant insight into those needs. A message service was therefore set up together with the HIV Association, in which the organisation sends an update to the Happi users once every two weeks.”
Based on this idea, patients were closely involved in the development of the app functionalities as well as the optimisation of its design and usability. Niemantsverdriet: “We first validated the concept with a focus group before testing the features.” This usually took place in an easily accessible way: via dummy apps. “By first visually mapping the app and testing that, we soon gained insight into whether the concept was strong enough and whether people understood the features. This approach also avoided substantial costs being incurred upfront. You don’t want to build a complete service or product that turns out to be useless for the intended users.”
The Happi focus group indicated a wish to be able to order medication via the app. Niemantsverdriet: “We have been providing the service for one year now, and it has already been used for some 350 orders, with 85% of the users scoring the service at 8.5 or higher.”
It sounds easy: talking to users and optimising an app on that basis – first into a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and later to a definitive design. But it certainly wasn’t so simple in practice, especially as other stakeholders are involved in health care innovations besides patients, from doctors and investors to pharmaceutical companies and health care institutions. “And they want to be heard, too,” Niemantsverdriet explains. “Doctors expect to see added value, pharmacists need their interests and data to be secure.” Sometimes those interests can be in sharp contrast to the ease of use. “From a user design perspective we aim to make logging into the app as easy as possible. At the same time, you don’t want personal data to end up on the street. A balance has to be found between ease of use and privacy, and that requires consultation with all stakeholders.”
App for easy-access care
Medical data is privacy-sensitive by definition, Niemandsverdriet clarifies. “And nobody can be forced to provide this data. But when the interest in sharing data is clear – to improve health care – the willingness to share grows significantly. And the options to do this well and safely in a digital way are already available.”
Another major starting point of the HappiApp foundation was the need to be accessible to all patients, preferably with a direct connection to the hospital information system. “Thanks to the connection, surveys taken by the patients in the app are also included in the electronic patient dossier of, say, the internist. This saves a lot of time in the outpatient clinic.”
“…it becomes easier to enter into an open dialogue about the choices that have to be made together.”Roy Niemantsverdriet, Head of Sales & Marketing, E-sites
And there’s more: the app also ensures patients receive the right care for that precise moment. “Patients now visit their doctors every now and then. They often indicate that they are doing well but when something is actually wrong there is no guaranteed availability in the outpatient clinic. Using the Happi app means patients don’t just visit the hospital when they’re well, they can also arrange easy-access care when poorly. This gives patients with a chronic illness the knowledge, comfort and confidence they need to deal with their condition, and allows them to access optimal care in collaboration with their doctors.”
Reading between the lines
These are great results for a case that has also given Niemantsverdriet and E-sites lots of insight into the innovation process in the health care domain. “Innovation in health care isn’t easy. Resistance from stakeholders, safety issues, and a lack of legal knowledge or financial means are always lurking. Knowing what everyone’s interests are in the big picture makes it easier to enter into an open dialogue about the choices that have to be made together.”
With the emphasis on together – because in health care there is no point to pretending to know everything yourself. “The field is just too complex,” says Niemantsverdriet – which is why he is so glad that Joop Arends (UMC Utrecht) and his colleague Guido van den Berk (OLVG) were not deterred from contacting E-sites. “There are so many health care providers, patients, caregivers and other professionals walking around with innovative ideas, such as health care apps, monitoring or self-measurement solutions. Undoubtedly there are many excellent ideas among them as these people are at the heart of the health care process. And yet, the majority do not get past this stage as people don’t know who to approach to develop their idea further. We are grateful that Joop Arends and Guido van den Berk took this step.”
Like to know more?
Read the other Smartifiers’ cases
“The Smartifiers” (or De Verslimmers) is a series about the way in which Dutch digital agencies keep making the world around us a little smarter. All articles in the series have also appeared on Emerce.
The Smartifier cases (English)
The Smartifiers part 1: Stories inspire Chicago residents to think about infrastructure (CLEVER°FRANKE)
The Smartifiers part 7: How Mibo revitalised the after-work Friday drinks online (Q42)
The Smartifiers part 9: Happi app gives patients greater control over their illness (E-sites)
The Smartifiers part 10: All the world’s Van Goghs online
De Verslimmers cases (Dutch)
De Verslimmers deel 1: Verhalen laten Chicago bewoners nadenken over infrastructuur (CLEVER°FRANKE)
De Verslimmers deel 2: Digitaal spelbord helpt jeugdhulpverleners bij besluitvorming (Greenberry)
De Verslimmers deel 3: Content op maat voor elke bezoeker (Snakeware)
De Verslimmers deel 4: Gamification helpt jonge gedetineerden te praten over morele dilemma’s (Kaliber)
De Verslimmers deel 5: App voorkomt lege binnenvaart (Swis)
De Verslimmers deel 6: Digitalisering van een 128 jaar oude drukkerij (Redkiwi)
De Verslimmers deel 7: Mibo videochatapp maakt van videobellen een interactieve ervaring (Q42)
De Verslimmers deel 8: Hoe NS de OV-fiets innoveerde (INFO)
De Verslimmers deel 9: Happi app geeft patiënten weer grip over hun ziekte
De Verslimmers deel 10: Van Gogh Worldwide: Data van ruim 1000 kunstwerken op één platform