October 13, 2016

The Secret to a Successful Digital Health Service

Elina Reponen

Innovation Manager, Kenno Ethnographic Consulting

We asked entrepreneurs how they take care of their well-being. We were expecting them to reply something related to physical wellness but, what came to their mind were means of coping with stress, work-life balance, and essentially mental wellness. Yet, majority of digital health services provided at the moment concentrate on physical wellness.

Measuring mental wellness

Perhaps, one reason behind this is, that physical performance is easier to track. But from a user-perspective, physical and mental health are both parts of the same whole.

By now, we are no strangers to measuring daily steps, heart rate, and physical activity during the work day, but the determinants of mental wellness are harder to define and measure. Of course we can track clues of it. Heart rate variability, sweating, blood pressure, and breath rate for example can be bodily reactions to a stressful situation. But the notion of stress itself is unspecific. Not all stress is bad, of course, and what is stressful to one, can be a positive challenge or a dynamic working pace to another.

In addition to tracking and measuring, when it comes to mental wellness, a person’s own experience is key. Which is why, for digital mental wellness services, it is important to combine measurements like heart rate variability to users’ own evaluations.

Well-being is as much about experienced wellness as it is about performance. However, this is not to say that user’s own experience is always right or even accurate. Even when we have every opportunity to feel great, sometimes our minds say no.

Getting feedback

When it comes to giving feedback, digital health services with more holistic approach on wellness, cannot use the same logic as physical wellness services use. When measuring my physical wellness, I am used to getting direct feedback based on my performance, but the situation is not the same with mental wellness.

Besides heart- and breath rate or perspiration, things like emotions and social inclusion need to be taken into consideration, because they affect mental state and performance as well. The Finnish YOU app is a good example of a holistic digital wellness service. It guides users towards overall wellness through daily micro-actions that regard physical, emotional, and social aspects of wellbeing.

The context where wellness is created

As an entrepreneur myself, I can relate to the things the interviewed entrepreneurs mentioned, even though I was not expecting them. Wellness is not something that could be separated from the context where it is created. Entrepreneurs also do not tend to look at work and life as separate entities. Instead they are entangled perhaps more tightly than for other people, and happiness in one of them means good things in the other as well.

Perhaps there is something to be learned from the connection the entrepreneurs made. Digital health solutions that wish to motivate their users to take better care of themselves, and to keep on using the same service, ought to make visible, the connection between physical, mental and social well-being and daily performance. That way users could see for themselves, how their morning run, dinner with friends and a good night’s sleep actually affect their mood and performance.

Through increasing “entreprenialization” affecting work life as we speak, I believe that most successful digital health services are the ones that do not just measure one part of users’ lives, but instead take notice of the full scale of it, experience and all, holistically.

Elina works as Innovation Manager at Kenno Ethnographic Consulting. As part of the "Elo develops / Elo kehittää" project Kenno, Elo and Tieto Experience Hub co-operated in order to research the situation of entrepreneurs well-being in Finland. Focus group interview on well-being of entrepreneurs, conducted by Tieto Experience Hub on 15.3.2016. Follow the project and join into discussion #elokehittää.

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