Women’s Health and Informatics Tools: Evaluating Existing Tools and Identifying Opportunities

2 minute read


Title: Women’s Health and Informatics Tools: Evaluating Existing Tools and Identifying Opportunities

Date: 2020-10-30

Host: Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Pittsburgh

Speaker: Kim Unertl

Summary and thoughts:

Dr. Kim Unertl from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine presented at this week’s colloquium on informatics tools designed for women’s health and the work in her lab for the same. Her summer research group, comprised majorly of undergraduate and high school students, focuses on developing and assessing useful and usable technology. Although women tend to use more healthcare services than men and often lead decision-making in healthcare for their families, it is astonishing to know that only 3% of current digital technologies focus on women’s health. Often, as a way to make gender neutral applications, women’s health issues are ignored in the popular technologies such as health tracking applications. Knowing that men and women have significant differences in their health profiles and required healthcare services, providing specific care applications for both sexes is a must. Dr. Unertl’s study focused on menstruation tracking applications (MTAs) with a goal to perform heuristic evaluation of 67 such applications on both Android and Apple devices. Heuristic evaluation is a type of usability testing that can be performed without a formal lab setup. Their study analyzed the following 2 research questions -

  1. What are the gaps between the needs of women and the design of existing mobile technologies?
  2. How compliant are mobile health apps directed at women with principles of good design, usability and accessibility? What approaches do these apps take to data privacy and security?

Overall, the research group analyzed various themes and topics within the MTAs: overall design complexity, common UI elements, linking users to goals and needs, and major concerns with the specific applications. Some of the major concerns included bad advice with lack of evidence, potential hazards, data privacy and exporting to EHR. I liked that Dr. Unertl made sure to clarify that their study group aimed to focus on “women’s health” with a broader focus on all people who identify as women and not just the traditional definition in order to be more inclusive. As a follow up to their heuristic evaluation, the group also made several useful recommendations for applications in the future such as flexible design, sharing with healthcare providers, supprting broader range of users and customization for their needs, transparency in predictions, and privacy, security and data ownership concerns.