Emotional Currency: The missing design element in digital heath

Evan Hirsch ev@e-co4.com
Isabel Granic i.granic@pwo.ru.nl

Abstract

A wave of digital tools that promise to help physicians, providers and patients achieve better outcomes for a multitude of problems ranging from practice improvement to better patient outcomes. Whether designed for patients or practitioners, for products (or services) to achieve widespread adoption and actually improve outcomes, they must overcome a market that has become very skeptical.

Too many well intended technologies have failed to connect with users in a meaningful way. Like their pharmaceutical counterparts, the lack of design for emotional engagement results in users with yet another intervention with low adherence. As is the case with well proven apps (e.g.; social media, mobile free-to-play games, etc.),products designed for end-to-end user engagements are more likely to convert cautious users into profitable users. We argue these same industry-tested techniques must be applied to any digital health tool, regardless of end user. In designing applications that foster trust between the user and the app, diverse pathways create and open opportunities to convert users’ behaviors and probability of improved outcomes.

Commercial game developers have long known success requires a magical mix of an aspirational narrative packaged with great mechanics in a cohesive design to deliver the right balance of accessibility, challenge and fun. In addition to our experience having developed commercially successful games we’ve shipped clinically validated therapeutic games and VR experiences for mental health, addiction treatment and PTSD. From this foundation we assert that for a game with therapeutic objectives to be effective, it must first deliver the same level of engagement their commercial counterparts do in order to deliver evidence based, demonstrable interventions.

We will share how we draw from neuroscience while ‘hi-jacking’ consumer behaviors to develop effective and engaging tools, and how our team starts with clinical subject matter expertise before layering on game mechanics and cutting edge psychological research. Concepts are quickly validated through rapid user research methods to develop empirically sound, cohesively designed, powerful engines for behavioral and emotional change.

Next, we will cover how we design for users’ needs, real and perceived, from the first moment a physician or patient hears of an app to the moments immediately after they open it for the first time. We build users’ confidence using the “black arts” of commercial game design (ramping, currency design, narrative, integrated social media, virality and segmentation) with principles from clinical psychology and the affective neuroscience behind self-regulation and risk/reward to create interactive design methodologies. It is this toolset that allows us to create emotional connections between our users and their apps, which makes the likelihood of behavioral conversion much higher.
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