How can you truly understand the burden of disease unless you know what it is like to live as a patient yourself?
The Method's app, A Life in a Day, simulates patients' experiences, enhancing healthcare empathy.
The Method equips professionals from all sectors with a tool, cultivated by actors, directors and writers, which is used to unlock their potential by enacting behaviour change. It is based in experiential learning, emphasising a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach. Training is delivered through a set of modules, and this includes participation in workshops, coaching sessions and interactive events. These modules cover themes such as ‘influence and flex’, ‘impact and confidence’, and ‘values and personal brand’. The Method has partnered with an impressive array of clients from a range of sectors, including Unilever, AON, Network Rail, EE and Compare the Market. We are proud that they chose us to join them in creating a positive difference in the realm of healthcare.
The Method wanted to utilise our expertise in creating an app that promoted a greater awareness of the lived experience of individuals afflicted with certain illnesses. The result – ‘A Life in a Day‘ – would simulate how it would feel to spend 24 hours or more in the shoes of someone with a serious illness, including Crohn’s disease, heart failure, cancer and other medical conditions. It was initially developed as an in-house patient awareness programme for a global pharmaceutical company. The Method felt that this app would enhance the work of healthcare professionals, and transform patient outcomes by breeding a greater level of empathy and understanding.
Empathy is a key ingredient in the healthcare sector. It has been shown that for patients and their healthcare professionals, greater empathy leads to greater levels of satisfaction and better health outcomes.
Among patients, it has been shown that affective concern is valued just as much as, if not more than, technical competence when choosing a doctor. Empathy builds trust. Empathetic responses encourage patients to open up about their lived experiences. They also become more receptive to advice and treatment plans given by professionals. This develops a more cooperative relationship between the patient and their healthcare professional; increasing the likelihood of creating a more effective treatment plan.
Trust also allows the professional to gather more information about the patient’s experiences than they otherwise would have. This helps them to provide more accurate diagnoses. It also helps them to develop more useful, practical and relevant treatment programmes that more easily fit into the patient’s life.
The first steps
The Method met with us in London, and our two companies selected a joint project team that immediately began work on the ‘A Life in a Day’ app. Andy Green, Director at Headchannel, explained “We understood the business issues and we went deep into the design discussions, applying our IT knowledge to discover what would work best”.
A team at The Method carried out in-depth research into each disease that they wanted to promote a greater awareness of. They carried out this research alongside patients living with certain illnesses, and healthcare experts with experience of managing and treating those diseases. It was important to the team at The Method that the app encompassed and effectively demonstrated an accurate and holistic reality of the lived experience of each condition.
In order to leave a greater impression on app users, and create a more authentic lived experience of each condition, The Method wanted to make the app fully immersive and interactive. They wanted to create an app in which the user becomes the patient and truly experiences, instead of just learns, how an illness would impact your life at home and at work.
Our solution: the key features of ‘A Life in a Day’
1. An immersive experience
The ‘A Life in a Day’ app creates a unique and highly immersive experience that puts users into the shoes of the patient for 24 hours or more. This brings to life the physical, emotional and social impact of each condition with the use of a ‘medical kit’, interactive events and challenges, and role play.
Before the app is even launched, app users receive a sealed medical ‘kit’ that they are instructed to keep with them throughout the day and open when they are told to. This kit is designed to immerse the app user completely, using all of their senses, to more accurately mimic the lived experience of a patient. This kit includes:
- Wearables to simulate discomfort/sensations
- Medical items a patient might interact with
- Smell/blood/liquids for a visceral impact
As soon as the app is started, it triggers a series of events reflecting the challenges and choices an individual with a specific disease or illness would typically face in their lives. A typical experience might include up to 150 inter-related challenges, with different consequences depending on the user’s actions.
Every medical scenario is different, but incidents might include:
- Needing to get up one hour earlier than normal to prepare a breakfast that follows a special diet
- Having to go outside because of feeling stifled and desperate for fresh air
- The urgent need for a bathroom break and being given just two minutes to find somewhere
- Only being able to walk slowly
- Tricky questions about work opportunities – and if the user is physically able to say ‘Yes’
The role play
Role play is also implemented throughout the day. Professional actors take on the role of doctors, bosses and friends to interrupt the app user’s day, and confront them with difficult situations that reflect the real-life dilemmas of someone living with a certain illness or disease.
Actors contact them by phone with a variety of stress-inducing dilemmas such as:
- A ‘boss’ calling to discuss what will need to happen if the condition progresses
- A ‘doctor’ calling with results of medical tests, and the different options for treatment
2. Customised reporting
‘A Life in a Day’ sets out to improve empathy, so we found a way to track the involvement, progress, and performance of each user as well as groups of users.
While running the app, users must respond by making choices, entering data or even adding photos as proof they are engaging fully with the simulation.
Afterwards, reports can be customised to provide the desired insights that each client company sets out to investigate. These might include how the app users’ empathy levels change and how much they have learned. Companies can also gain important insights into which daily challenges turn out to be the toughest for patients. Meanwhile, user feedback can also be used to improve the app itself.
3. Intuitive design
The app was designed by the team at HeadChannel in such a way to make it possible for non-technical administrators to populate, update and edit each challenge. This empowers them to take control of its content and journeys without needing any programming skills or special training. The interactive challenges can be modified easily. The built-in Journey Creator allows staff to tailor templates effortlessly, clicking on timelines and adding specific challenges from a drop-down list, as well as adding links and changing the responses users receive for each challenge at the click of a button.
The solution avoids many repetitive tasks and uses time-saving templates. What’s more, administrators can manage journeys, events and users from a single control panel. Changes can also be made ‘live’, allowing the team to adapt a journey and personalise responses in real time. The interface is also intuitive for users; the app can be up and running on their mobile phones in minutes.
4. Global deployment
The brief was to create an application for a global audience with multiple users in multiple time-zones, requiring multiple languages. The Method wanted to capture the user data, but did not want a solution that required participants to be connected to the internet at all times – as this was not practical for users. What’s more, a client might suddenly require a new language to be added quickly, so The Method was keen to find a solution that would enable them to prepare and test this within the application without the need for a specialist developer.
We implemented a number of solutions to meet this requirement:
New languages can be added easily. The app includes a translation module that allows everything to be exported into a text file, translated by professionals and then imported with one click. The new language is then inserted automatically within the interface, the challenges, the evaluation questionnaire and the journey templates
Mobile coverage could be a problem for users going about their daily tasks. So, at the start of each journey, the challenges are downloaded onto the users’ phones. The app therefore works offline tooThe app supports time zones to enable continuity with its 24-hour journeys. So, if the users are travelling around the world by plane, it will adjust the challenges to the current time zone.
We also decided to host the app using Microsoft Azure. This cloud deployment has enabled performance gains in different countries as well as a range of other benefits (see below).
5. Security and data privacy
The app has been designed to meet international security standards around how medical content is exported/imported, and the way that user data is gathered, stored and shared. Also, the admin panel uses permission levels to protect the system from misuse.
A story of success
Today, ‘A Life in a Day’ is helping to transform the way that health treatments are developed and sold around the world. The app was taken to market by The Method with outstanding results.
A verifiable impact
In 2018, a research study led by Westminster University discovered that the ‘A Life in a Day’ programme delivers a statistically significant impact in the following areas:
- Increases patient empathy
- Increases understanding of living with the condition and impact on friends, family and work
- Increases confidence talking to stakeholders about the condition and its impact on patients’ lives
In light of these findings, we are proud to celebrate that ‘A Life In a Day’ has not only met, but gone above and beyond meeting the original goals that The Method set out to achieve in the development of their app.
This opinion is also shared among highly experienced healthcare professionals. They agree that the app has taught them something valuable and unique, and that it will leave a long-lasting and positive impact on their future work. This is expertly summed up by James Lochrie, a Specialist Oncology Pharmacist at the Royal Free Hospital in London. He wrote:
“I feel that ‘A Life in a Day’ will really improve my practice. In a busy hospital, it can be quite easy to distance yourself from the reality of what patients go through. This experience will make me think more about the experience of patients in between their treatments and how they cope with it. I will be able to empathise even more with them in the future.”
A global impact
‘A Life in a Day’ has been used in 22 programmes run by five of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies across Europe and the United States. We have developed programmes simulating Gastro-enterology, Oncology and Cardio-vascular disease, with a variety of new therapy areas in production. So far, more than 300 participants have used the app, in over 30 countries, encountering over 35,000 challenges. The app has also been translated into ten languages.
The pharma companies are enabling their employees to become more empathetic and effective in their roles. The initial feedback has been excellent. Thanks to the app, researchers are gaining more knowledge to develop better treatments. Meanwhile, sales reps are understanding customer needs much better — helping them to know when and how best to sell products.
Performance, efficiency and scalability
Our decision to use Microsoft Azure has paid off significantly. The app can be scaled instantly to thousands of users — and The Method only pays for what’s being consumed, keeping costs under control and maximising profitability. Meanwhile, the global nature of Azure means that servers can be close to where a programme is running, whether that’s in Eastern Asia or Europe, boosting response times.
We are pleased that our partnership with The Method has been so successful, and that we have truly helped their vision for ‘A Life in a Day’ become a reality. Mark Doyle, Director of The Method, wrote that “HeadChannel understood our vision right away — and applied their exceptional technical know-how to make the app a reality, simple to manage and something we could support globally for our clients”.
We are also pleased to announce that ‘A Life in a Day’ has won two awards at the Learning Technologies 2020 Awards Night.
Our app won Gold for ‘The Best Use of Mobile Learning’.
This award recognises our innovative use of mobile technology to educate others in a positive, efficient and effective way. The judges described how “The thoughtfulness around not only immersing the user into the perspective of their patient audience but also doing related tasks were inspired… As a soft skills training programme, it is one of the best the judges have seen. Attention to detail and thorough research underpin an impactful and truly original simulation of the patient experience”.
Our app also won Silver for the Best Use of Simulation or Virtual Environment for Learning.
This award recognised our pioneering use of simulation techniques, and the extent to which those techniques engaged the user, and created an enjoyable and effective learning experience for them.
‘A Life in a Day’ has strong potential for wider applications. It could assist doctors, nurses, social housing managers and others within the wider care environment. The app could also help managers at corporations to develop more soft skills and provide human resources professionals with insights into how to support employees who are struggling with health conditions.
The concept has been a huge success — and now there’s a second project in the pipeline. Already, The Method is talking with us about an exciting new app for trainers and coaches.
See the video Learn more about the app
- Team – Developers 7 (Team Leader 1, iOS dev 1, Android dev 1, Backend dev 2, Frontend dev 2), UX Designer 1, QA 1, BA 1, PM 1
- Project management – Scrum for production and Kanban for maintenance
- Technology – .NET Framework, jQuery, Android SDK Java, iOS, AngularJS, HTML/CSS, SASS