A user-centered approach: Understanding client and caregiver needs and preferences in the development of mhealth apps for self-management



Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Publication Title

JMIR mHealth and uHealth






Adolescence, Cerebral palsy, Mobile health, Self-care, Spina bifida, Spinal cord injury, Telemedicine


Background: Many adolescents and young adults with chronic illness or disability often fail to develop the self-management skills necessary to independently handle medical and self-management routines. In light of these needs, we are developing iMHere 2.0 (Interactive Mobile Health and Rehabilitation), a mobile health (mHealth) system to support a self-management program. Objective: Our objective was to gather data from persons with brain and spinal cord anomalies (BSA) and their caregivers to better understand how mHealth would be most helpful in supporting them to proactively manage daily self-care routines and to access medical care as needed. The specific purpose was not only to gather feedback and to gain increased insight into the design of the new version of iMHere, but also to gather perspectives of new groups, namely adolescents as young as 12 years and their parents and/or caregivers. Methods: Our project employed focus group sessions and surveys to collect data from participants with BSA, as well as their caregivers. A total of six focus group sessions were conducted on four separate occasions until the data gathered reached saturation. The objectives of our focus group sessions were to better understand ways to develop mHealth systems to support self-management, to promote independence, to motivate long-term system use, and to prevent medical problems that lead to hospitalizations and emergency room visits for youth and young adults with BSA. Results: A total of 16 youth and young adults with BSA and 11 caregivers participated in the sessions. Within and among our groups, the following five overarching themes emerged from the data: (1) make it easy, (2) engage, (3) educate and prepare, (4) motivate and support, and (5) personalize. Participants shared their perspectives and detailed information about mHealth apps that would be important for independence in self-care and self-management. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that most individuals keep their mobile phones with them at all times and typically use a mobile phone for social media, music, photos, and texting. Our qualitative analysis indicates that youth and young adults with BSA, as well as their caregivers, acknowledge the importance of being actively engaged in developing and using mHealth apps that monitor and manage their health care needs. Information gleaned from these focus group sessions and surveys have provided data to refine the iMHere 2.0 mHealth prototype platform that we have developed.

Open Access