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Aug 2, 2022

Digital Health Application (DiGA): User experience for better adherence

Whether it is diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure – the success of medical treatments largely depends on whether patients are motivated to cooperate. Digital health applications (DiGA) have great potential to increase treatment adherence. And it also offers advantages for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices: After all, they can open up new areas of business with digital services. The acceptance of these health apps stands and falls with a good usability & user experience. In this article, you will learn how to reach them.

Do patients take their medication regularly? Are they changing their lifestyle or eating habits? Many patients have difficulties in implementing their therapy plans in a disciplined manner. There are many reasons why patients lack adherence to therapy: insufficient information on how drugs work, lack of motivation, or lack of communication on the doctor’s part.

Lack of adherence is one of the most common reasons why therapies fail. In industrialized nations, long-term adherence is only 50 %. (1) This is not only a great risk for the health of the patients. At the same time, it causes high costs for health insurance companies. In 2007, the medical costs incurred in Germany due to poor adherence were 10 billion euros annually. This corresponds to 13 % of all medical costs. (2) But how can this be reduced?

Health apps for more adherence

Apps in combination with wearables, artificial intelligence and cloud computing hold enormous disruptive potential. The target group of particular interest is the chronically ill (3) and, due to their affinity for technology, young people (4). Apps demonstrate their full strength when it comes to diseases of affluence in particular: For example, they can help diabetes sufferers to change their health behavior in the long term and optimize their self-management. High adherence to therapy can avoid costly treatments and hospitalizations for many chronic diseases. (5)

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But apps can also increase the success of therapy in surgical aftercare and rehabilitation. In the Script research project, UID developed several motivational games for stroke patients. The patients put on a robotic glove that supports the movements of the hand and fingers. Patients use their hands to control interactive games and thus playfully relearn everyday movements.

From manufacturer to service provider

It is clear that high adherence pays off for patients and health insurers. But what about pharmaceutical companies or manufacturers of medical devices? Why should they invest in digital health apps (DiGA) for greater treatment adherence in the first place? Through digital services, companies are developing new business models: In addition to pharmaceuticals and hardware, they can generate additional revenue through "service to patients". This is also accompanied by a paradigm shift: The focus shifts from the product to the patient: Thanks to the approval and reimbursement as DiGA, these new digital services can also be optimally marketed.

Usability & UX for increased adherence

More than half of all pharmaceutical companies (53.7%) now offer apps designed to support patient adherence. The problem: Most of these apps have been used only very cautiously so far. (6) Above all, those who could benefit from it rarely take up digital support. The apps seem to have been developed past the needs of chronically ill people. Patients must have an interest in using the health app regularly. Good usability and user experience are decisive success factors.

A good usability and user experience (UUX) offers several advantages at once:

  • It minimizes the risk of operator error. This conveys security to the users and creates trust.
  • It reduces barriers to entry: Applications with good UUX are intuitive to understand. Users can operate it without a lot of learning time or training. On the other hand, if they fail at the startup or initial steps, they may not even experience the potential added value of digital health apps (DiGA).
  • Applications with a good UUX are easy and fast to use. Users can perform operating steps quickly and easily. They are not "held up", but optimally supported in their tasks. This increases the willingness to use the application regularly.

Human-centered for more user experience

But how are applications with a good user experience created? The most important thing: Applications must offer users real added value and be optimally integrated into their everyday lives. Patients must perceive the functions as support for their treatment in everyday life. Only then do they engage with the application at all and use it regularly. To achieve this, manufacturers of digital solutions must know the needs of users very well and address them optimally. This is where the human-centered design process helps.

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The human-centered design process represents the center of the design. At the beginning there is always the analysis of the needs of the users and the context of use. Various methods of user research are available for this purpose. Customer journey mapping, for example, provides insight into the everyday lives of users. It shows how patients interact with the application along the customer lifecycle. If you want to learn more: In a paper, we compare which method is suitable and when. Thanks to these user research methods, manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices can identify where they can relieve patients in their daily therapy routine. This results in e-health offerings that are perfectly tailored to the users.

Meeting the needs of special target groups

In view of many chronic medical conditions, a lot of senior citizens could be among the target group for health applications. Many older people have little experience and confidence with digital products and are skeptical about them. Due to age, chronic disease or medication, motor and cognitive limitations may also make operation more difficult. The design of digital health applications (DiGA) must consider this.

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Low entry barriers and perfect usability play a major role regarding the target group. But responsiveness should be in focus as well: Senior citizens do not always have the latest technology at their disposal. To avoid excluding people, the application should work well on as many devices as possible. What requirements should you respond to? The best way to find out this information is to use the user research methods mentioned above.

Transparency about purpose and data

Especially when it comes to healthcare applications and sensitive data, digital solutions must inspire trust. Transparent communication is indispensable here: First, patients should be clear about the purposes for which they can use the health app. To prevent misuse, the limits of the apps should be clearly shown. You should also be honest when it comes to data protection: What data does the digital health application (DiGA) collect and store? What happens to it? Who has access to it?

Increase motivation with gamification

Beneficiary motivation is critical to treatment adherence. One promising solution to increase this is gamification. Game elements such as challenges, badges, etc. are adapted in non-game contexts. One successful example is the MySugar app. It includes challenges that diabetics successfully complete by documenting their blood glucose levels and calories. Overcoming these challenges fills patients with pride and helps them stay on the ball. And what's more: These playful engagement strategies can be the deciding factor why patients not only use an app, but enjoy using it. This positive user experience (UX) can become the decisive unique selling proposition (USP) of an application.


Companies developing digital applications to increase adherence are transforming themselves from pure drug and medical device manufacturers to e-health service providers. In doing so, they should actively involve patients in the development through the human-centered design process. They must recognize the added value of the health app and be able to use it intuitively. Only then can the digital health application (DiGA) achieve its goal of increasing treatment adherence. Data protection and data security, error-free and secure operation, human-centered design and gamification – all these factors together ensure a positive user experience. In this way, motivated users are achieved who use the health application in the long term and implement their therapy plans in a motivated and disciplined manner.

The authors

Dominik Zenth has been developing user-friendly and creative solutions at UID since 2015. Companies from the medical and pharmaceutical sectors in particular benefit from the knowledge of the trained health scientist and physiotherapist. As a specialist in user research and design of health applications, he understands the needs of users and translates them into intuitively usable products.

Talk directly with Dominik about digital health applications – via LinkedIn or E-Mail.

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Whether inbound marketing, social media or event organization – Juliane Markotschi has over 15 years of experience in classic and digital communication. The specialist in German studies and communication scientist discovered her passion for topics from the world of UX at UID and has been taking it out to the world on the UID channels ever since.

Talk directly with Juliane about digital health applications – via LinkedIn or E-Mail.