Global Business School for Health


Developing Inclusive HealthTech Solutions

30 June 2022

Dr Marzena Nieroda, Lecturer in Marketing and Commercialisation at the UCL Global Business School for Health, shares advice on developing inclusive HealthTech solutions.


Some of my recent work relates to improving citizen-facing health technologies (HealthTech) so that they can reach and benefit the wider society. Some examples of HealthTech include mobile health apps, wearable devices, virtual coaching and other digital platforms that can facilitate citizens’ engagement with their own health. 

Such technologies are at the heart of health policies and strategies globally as they are seen as a way to facilitate disease prevention and health promotion and could potentially help to remove existing health inequalities. Preventing chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) can be achieved with healthy lifestyles, involving “…not smoking, adhering to alcohol guidelines, maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and eating a healthy diet…” (McKee et al., 2021, p. 1986). If we are able to design HealthTech that will help everyone engage more with such healthy behaviours, we can help people enjoy a better quality of life for longer (McKee et al. 2021). 

Regardless of the constant innovation of HealthTech, the challenge remains in low accessibility and digital exclusion for the most vulnerable groups in the society (e.g., the elderly, individuals from BAME backgrounds, and refugees). Consequently, the problem that I am exploring is the development of technology that could benefit the entire society, including some of the most vulnerable groups.  Below is a list of some key aspects that should be considered in the design of inclusive HealthTech:

Design with all users in mind

HealthTech platforms are unique in the sense that they are likely to accommodate the needs of different users in one platform: citizens or customers, healthcare practitioners and technology developers. All those users’ views and knowledge are utilised to benefit the end-user – here a citizen or a customer. Consequently, the key objective in designing such technologies should be to identify all user types and understand what type of functionality and benefits each user type will need. Once these needs are understood, technology architecture could be put in place to enable seamless integration of all these requirements in those tools. This integration could allow for harmonious interactions among all users for the most health benefit for the end-user. In my experience, I see some technologies could be limited by the fact they are developed with one main stakeholder in mind: either a citizen or a customer, a technologist or a healthcare practitioner. There is a need for closer collaboration involving all user types. 

Differentiate and specialise

Many healthcare solutions are criticised for a “one size fits all” approach. In order to reach different audiences, we must consider the unique needs of the people the technology is designed to benefit most: citizens or consumers. While we know that some of the advanced technology users would like to have more health functions in one place (e.g., an app), this is not necessarily the case for individuals who are less familiar with technology or less active in relation to their health. Let us recognise people are different and we might need to develop different tools and HealthTech solutions that those people feel are right for them. If we start with a unique citizen or customer group and try to understand their needs, we are more likely to design technology that will be of value to them. The UK alone has a population of nearly 12 million people aged 65 and above. There is scope to target this group with specific HealthTech developed only for their needs. 

Make behaviour change journeys part of a lifestyle

HealthTech should account for the full complexity of citizens’ lives and life journeys – whether in the stages when health promotion and disease prevention are more pertinent or in later stages when disease detection or maintenance are more relevant. We should also recognise that health behaviours are more likely to be accepted if they somehow fit with other daily activities people engage with. Someone might not be willing to go to a gym or engage in stretching exercises, but they might be already doing some physical activity by commuting to work or walking their dog. HealthTech should allow the recognising of alternative health behaviours or routines that are already in place; it should recognise that effort; it should reward it and support further engagement if this feels right for the user. People are very busy in their daily lives, so having an additional tool that demands more from us is not always helpful (it might be great for some, but not for everyone). 

Communicate in a personalised manner 

Technology should consider appropriate communication approaches that could be more likely to attract attention from different citizens at different stages of their behaviour change journey. For instance, there is scope to use personalised communication approaches to reach and attract wider audiences to engage with HealthTech. We can also use personalised coaching dialogues to provide feedback and help people continue with healthy behaviours. Some of the research I am currently engaged in points to the fact that some people are more likely to be motivated by their desire to avoid illness or feel (and look) better or both. We also found out that different levels of health literacy translate into different types of health engagement. There is scope to tailor health communications to different people in a way that they find the health recommendation feasible and attractive. 

Put accessibility first

HealthTech is likely to be impacted by many accessibility issues and consequently requirements. Accessibility in the broadest sense means designing a product that is likely to be easy to use by the widest range of people, including people with disabilities. As most of HealthTech will use some sort of display or website to communicate with users, it will have to consider website accessibility guidelines. Such guidelines are in place to assure that any content that is displayed to users creates no barriers to use. Accessibility in this context could relate to the readability of the content, size of fonts, colours used on websites, sizes of images, etc.  


HealthTech is constantly innovating and could have true impact on the wider healthcare system. However, as it impacts a very fragile and sensitive area of people’s lives, there is a need to ensure that such initiatives do no harm to people and contribute to improved health outcomes. Consequently, HealthTech should enable research, data collection and validation procedures that could enable evaluating performance on such tools on various safety, performance and impact metrics. This type of evaluation and validation could be necessary in order to advance health policy guidelines and strategies leading to further innovation in relation to digital health inclusion.