I recently returned from the second annual Digital Health Communications Extravaganza (DHCX), which took place February 20-22 in Orlando, Florida and was organized by the University of Florida Center for Digital Health and Wellness. The conference strives to set itself apart by keeping the participant list small and asking the speakers to aim their talks at other experts. I also appreciated that the DHCX planners had some fun with the event, from blasting intro music as each speaker came on stage to taking the occasional break for a short comedy skit or live performances – hence the term extravaganza.
I found the panel on Digital Health Innovations to be especially compelling, as Dr. Michael Smith, medical director and chief medical editor at WebMD, shed some light on the most important stories for WebMD users in 2012. For desktop PC users, the big stories were the Affordable Care Act and emerging diseases with a scare factor, such as West Nile virus, but for mobile users, the most searched for question was “Am I Pregnant?” Smith said that the mobile platform appeals to users who are seeking immediate answers to personal and specific questions such as pregnancy and STDs. He also predicted that the big health stories of 2013 would be food, drink, and safety recalls as well as food allergies and intolerances.
Jeremy Vanderlan, Technical Lead for AIDS.gov and Mobile Director at ICF, JSI’s technical partner on AIDS.gov, presented on AIDS.gov’s responsive web design and echoed Smith’s insights on the difference between desktop and mobile health information searches. He also said that queries to the CDC/Kaiser’s HIV testing “KNOWIT” campaign, which allows you to text your ZIP code to find an HIV testing location, peaked between 1 and 3 AM, when people may be reacting to an immediate need (e.g., questioning a symptom or engaging in risky behavior). By employing a responsive web design—or one that provides an optimal viewing experience across a range devices—AIDS.gov is able to deliver personal content in an intimate way when users are browsing with their mobile devices.
Understanding the different motivations of desktop versus mobile health information seekers has important implications for our work on AIDS.gov and other digital health projects, especially as smartphone use becomes more ubiquitous. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s recent Health Online 2013 report, 45 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, and more than half of them have used it to look up health information. As mobile access begins to outpace desktop access, mobile will likely become our default platform.
Web design strategies have already evolved to reflect this shift, as evidenced by the movement towards responsive design, and the new Digital Government Strategy calls on us to deliver better digital services to any device, anytime, anywhere. Our content strategies must also evolve to anticipate and effectively respond to what information people are seeking, how, and where.
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