About 1.7 million Australians suffer from diabetes, but far fewer have access to effective education resources, according to the academic behind Emojifit, a symbols-based health management app.
Timothy Skinner, a diabetes expert and leading force behind Emojifit, says information on diabetes is over-complicated, requiring a “university-level” reading ability, while prevention often requires a comprehensive and informed shake-up to the way sufferers live their lives.
Patients often require significant changes to lifestyle including guidance on diet, physical activity and a host of other factors to mitigate the impact of the disease.
Professor Skinner, head of the school of Psychological and Clinical Science at Charles Darwin University, developed Emojifit to distil the wealth of information into a simplified and digestible user experience that helps sufferers improve their lives, regardless of their education.
“We see higher rates of diabetes in low-income, lower-education groups,” Professor Skinner says.
“A lot of the resources are just not designed for these groups.
“We’re trying to make Emojifit low-level, language-free, so it can be accessible by any populations relying on these emoji to help them make informed decisions.”
The user interface is extremely simplified — with as many concepts as possible distilled into obvious symbols — a heart represents heart health; a brain, stroke; an under-inflated male gender symbol, erectile dysfunction. There is text throughout the app, though it’s simplified and plays second fiddle to the symbols.
Emojifit is a deliberately unusual experience for anybody used to scheduling or productivity apps.
There is no one-tap reminders or automatically generated calendar events, Emojifit demands you slow down and think about the commitments you’re making. In the free version of the app, users have access to only a single “plan”, which allows you to select from a range of emoji-represented concerns, including heart, eye and kidney disease, erectile dysfunction or stroke. In the full version ($2.99), users are given up to four plans.
Your current wellbeing is assessed, and you’re asked what area of diabetes-related health you’d like to work on, and how you’d like to tackle it. Simple enough stuff, but once you’ve chosen your action (say, take cholesterol pills); you’re given a basic calendar feature and asked how confident you are that you can follow through.
This is where Emojifit gets weird, and potentially wonderful. Professor Skinner and the app’s developers recognise it’s easy enough to set a reminder to take pills, but that kickstarting a weight-loss regime with regular exercise is a lot harder. Setting a low confidence number prompts the user with a friendly “Can you change your plan to feel more confident” message and kicks back to the previous screen. It’s decidedly lo-fi, but in a very human way — the app just wants to make sure you have the best chance of success.
Professor Skinner says it’s crucial that people take their diabetes mitigation strategies into their own hands. “They are choosing the behaviour they want to target,” he says.
“It’s not driven healthcare professionals telling them what to do, we’re giving the person tools to help them make choices for themselves, which we know increases the likelihood they’re going to do it.”
The app is built upon Apple’s ResearchKit and Carekit frameworks, which allow for simplified delivery of key health stats to healthcare professionals and researchers.
The sharing capability of Emojifit is relatively limited at this stage, featuring automatic email generation of key stats for healthcare providers.
Emojifit is not without problems, mostly as a byproduct of oversimplification.
Simple things, like to-the-minute reminders, or a largely redundant bottom navigation menu create an unintuitive and unpolished experience.
It’s disappointing that the app ships without any HealthKit integration, meaning users won’t have plans tailored to their live and accurate health stats. HealthKit, another Apple platform, aggregates and shares health information (like heart rate, weight or activity) from various apps and devices, across the iOS ecosystem.
It’s only the first version of the app, so expect things to change, but they’ll need to if users are to embrace the quirks of the one-step-at-a-time experience.
It’s rough around the edges but Emojifit’s noble aspirations for a new direction in self-management of disease makes it worthy of a look-in for sufferers of Type 2 diabetes.
With further development, this little Aussie app has the potential to improve many lives.
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