User Profiles and Personas in the Design and Development of Consumer Health Technologies

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Background: “The graying of the globe” has resulted in exponential rise in health care expenses, over-worked health care professionals and a growing patient base suffering from multiple chronic diseases, one of which is diabetes. Consumer health technologies (CHT) are considered important catalysts for empowering health care consumers to take a proactive role in managing their health and related costs. Adoption rate and usability of such devices among the aging is far from being satisfactory. Past studies noted the motivation for adoption by the aging is dependent on the suitability/relevance, perceived usability and anticipated benefits associated with usage of technological innovation. Traditional information technology (IT) development adopts a systematic approach without necessarily using a specific user model that personalizes the system to the aging user groups. The aging patient population has unique needs arising from progressive deterioration in both physiological and psychological abilities. These needs are often ignored in the design, development, trial and adoption of consumer health products resulting in low adoption and usage.

Objectives: The main objective of this research is to investigate the user-centered design (UCD), specifically user profiles and personas, as methodological tools to inform the design and development of CHT devices for an aging population. The adoption of user profile and persona has not received much attention in health care informatics research and, in particular, research involving CHT. Our work begins to fill this void in three ways. We (1) illuminate the process of developing CHT user profiles and personas for a Chinese elder population with a demanding health care needs, i.e., self-management of chronic diabetes, with the hope that the resulting profiles and personas may be used as foundational material for informing the design, development and evaluation of CHT in other similar contexts; (2) call attention to how to further enhance and complement traditional user profile and persona techniques for CHT design by integrating cognitive structures and present behavior that drive health care thinking, future behavior and demand; (3) show how the profiles and personas can be used to inform requirements, design and implementation decisions for a technology aimed at facilitating CHT adoption and diffusion for the elderly.

Methodology: To exemplify process and application, we use an action-research methodology, where user profiles and personas of an aging patient population were developed. The resultant profiles and personas were leveraged to improve the design, development and implementation plans of a smart phone application to assist chronically ill aging Chinese diabetic population capable of disease self-management.

Results: The results from the study show that user profile and persona can be a valuable methodological approach in capturing the conceptual model of the aging and informing the design and development decisions of CHT. The demonstration of techniques used in this study can serve as a guideline to CHT developers in bringing conceptual user modeling into the design of software interfaces targeted for users with specific health care needs. Specifically, the study provides guidance on the creation and use of profiles and personas to tap into the conceptual models of the targeted elderly population reflecting their preferences, capabilities and attitudes towards using technology in self-management care in general and the smart phone diabetes management application in particular. Insight into the mental model of the aging group has been shown to inform later stages of UCD development (e.g., the creation of prototypes and usability testing) as well as implementation and adoption strategies. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2025, 80% of all new cases of diabetes are expected to appear in the developing countries. In fact, the number of diabetic patients in China is estimated to rise to 42.3 million in 2030 from 20.8 million in 2000. Thus, we investigate the Chinese aging population in order to demonstrate the process of developing and using user profile and persona. We hope that the resultant conceptual model of the Chinese aging diabetic population can be used in future research to guide CHT designers interested in designing health care devices for this vulnerable user group.