Mobile App to Help People With Chronic Illness Reflect on Their Strengths: Formative Evaluation and Usability Testing

JMIR Form Res. 2020 Mar 4;4(3):e16831. doi: 10.2196/16831.


Background: Supporting patient engagement and empowerment is increasingly seen as essential in providing person-centered health care to people with chronic illness. Mobile apps helping patients reflect on their concerns as preparation for consultations with their health care providers can have beneficial effects on the consultation quality. However, apps focusing on empowerment and personal strengths are still scarce.

Objective: This study aimed to (1) develop a mobile app to support patients with rheumatic diseases in reflecting on their strengths in preparation for consultations with health care providers and (2) explore patients' perceived usability of the app in a nonclinical test setting.

Methods: A prototype app was developed based on input from patients and health care providers, as reported in previous studies. The app was designed for use in self-management support settings aiming to promote awareness of strengths and to focus attention on strengths in the patient-health care provider dialogue. The features included in the prototype were as follows: (1) introduction to the topic of strengths, (2) list of examples of strengths to promote reflection and registration of own strengths, (3) summary of registered strengths, (4) value-based goal setting, (5) linking of strengths to goals, (6) summary of all registrations, and (7) options to share summary digitally or as a print version. In this study, the app was refined through a formative evaluation with patients and health care providers recruited from a specialized rheumatology hospital unit. Patients' perceptions of the app's usability were explored in a test setting with self-report measurements and semistructured interviews. The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed with directed content analysis. Data from questionnaires were analyzed with descriptive statistics.

Results: Developmental and formative evaluation included 18 patients and 7 health care providers. The evaluation resulted in minor adjustments to the prototype but no major changes in features. The usability testing included 12 patients. All participants found the usability acceptable; the median score on the System Usability Scale was 86.3 (range 70-100). All reported that it was meaningful and relevant to use the app. Out of 12 participants, 9 (75%) reported becoming more aware of their own strengths by using the app; 1 (8%) disagreed and 2 (17%) provided a neutral response. The results on the goal-related feature were mixed, with half of the patients finding it useful to link strengths to concrete goals. A statistically significant positive change from pre- to postintervention was identified on measures of self-efficacy and negative emotions.

Conclusions: In this formative evaluation of a mobile app to promote patients' reflections on their strengths, patients perceived the app as meaningful and supporting awareness. The results suggest the usefulness of building in functionality to support use of strengths and goal attainment. Further studies on efficacy and usability in a clinical setting, including health care providers, are needed.

Keywords: chronic illness; formative evaluation; mobile app; rheumatology; self-management; strengths; usability.