Patient Insights Into the Design of Technology to Support a Strengths-Based Approach to Health Care

JMIR Res Protoc. 2016 Aug 24;5(3):e175. doi: 10.2196/resprot.5906.


Background: An increasing number of research studies in the psychological and biobehavioral sciences support incorporating patients' personal strengths into illness management as a way to empower and activate the patients, thus improving their health and well-being. However, lack of attention to patients' personal strengths is still reported in patient-provider communication. Information technology (IT) has great potential to support strengths-based patient-provider communication and collaboration, but knowledge about the users' requirements and preferences is inadequate.

Objective: This study explored the aspirations and requirements of patients with chronic conditions concerning IT tools that could help increase their awareness of their own personal strengths and resources, and support discussion of these assets in consultations with health care providers.

Methods: We included patients with different chronic conditions (chronic pain, morbid obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and used various participatory research methods to gain insight into the participants' needs, values, and opinions, and the contexts in which they felt strengths-based IT tools could be used.

Results: Participants were positive toward using technology to support them in identifying and discussing their personal strengths in clinical consultation, but also underlined the importance of fitting it to their specific requirements and the right contexts of use. Participants recommended that technology be designed for use in preconsultation settings (eg, at home) and felt that it should support them in both identifying strengths and in finding out new ways how strengths can be used to attain personal health-related goals. Participants advocated use of technology to support advance preparation for consultations and empower them to take a more active role. IT tools were suggested to be potentially useful in specific contexts, including individual or group consultations with health care providers (physician, nurse, specialist, care team) in clinical consultations but also outside health care settings (eg, as a part of a self-management program). Participants' requirements for functionality and design include, among others: providing examples of strengths reported by other patients with chronic conditions, along with an option to extend the list with personal examples; giving an option to briefly summarize health-related history; using intuitive, easy-to-use but also engaging user interface design. Additionally, the findings are exemplified with a description of a low-fidelity paper prototype of a strengths-based tool, developed with participants in this study.

Conclusions: Users requirements for IT support of a strengths-based approach to health care appear feasible. The presented findings reflect patients' values and lists potential contexts where they feel that technology could facilitate meaningful patient-provider communication that focuses not just on symptoms and problems, but also takes into account patients' strengths and resources. The findings can be used to inform further development of IT tools for use in clinical consultations.

Keywords: chronic disease; participatory design; patient participation; patient requirement; patient strengths; patient-centered care; patient–provider collaboration; resilience; user-computer interface.