M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 176

Increasing Adoption of Critical Digital Health Applications: An Analysis of Trust To Inform Channel Strategies

Harshini Jayaram


Executive Summary

The PathCheck Foundation was founded as part of the fight against the COVID-19 global pandemic. One of their core focuses was the creation of a contact tracing application that is currently used in several jurisdictions. Looking forward, they are planning for other digital health related applications, potentially including digital health/vaccine passports. Applications like these, which serve to improve public health, are most effective with high adoption. However, digital health applications require users to share personal and private information such as detailed recent location tracking or a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Thus, given the particularly sensitive nature of contact tracing and similar applications, growing adoption requires building trust with users. This trust can be built through multiple sources, such as the institutions promoting the use of contact tracing, the organizations building the applications, or the people recommending a specific application.

To learn how to best increase adoption, PathCheck is conducting studies, including the one outlined in this Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE), to find the best opportunities for partnership, outreach, and messaging by looking at the level of trust in different channels. This PAE looked across the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom to evaluate the trust in different institutions, the most important application download influencers, and the trust in other ideas critical for contact tracing adoption. Based on the results, the key recommendations for PathCheck are:

1. Partner with public health agencies, which are by far the most trusted institution in public health crises.

2. Implement a referral program, since friends and family are a highly trusted source of both information and application download referrals.

The following considerations should also be kept in mind:

3. Emphasize outreach and application promotion through public institutions, who are seen as the most appropriate source for strong encouragement of using these applications.

4. Don’t invest heavily in promoting digital versus manual contact tracing since digital contact tracing is already more preferred than manual contact tracing.

5. Don’t invest heavily in social media, particularly without the recommended partnership and referrals above, because social media influencers are not trusted for information or for health-related application download recommendations. This channel is only useful to reach the minority that does not trust public health agencies as much.

By following these recommendations, PathCheck can continue to grow adoption of their current application and increase the likelihood of successful adoption of future public health applications.

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