Article Digital Health
19 April 2024

Prioritising vulnerable patients in Digital Health: Enhancing accessibility, support and regulatory compliance

Our COO Sharon Dickie continues her look at the challenges and opportunities facing Femtech health businesses that invest in mobile applications, patient monitoring and connected care.

In the third instalment of our series on Femtech and the value of inclusive healthcare solutions, we take a look at the critical importance of recognising vulnerable patients and service users, within the digital health landscape.

Whilst Femtech offers unparalleled opportunities for individuals to manage their own health proactively, there are concerns that the value is not necessarily being distributed evenly across the population. It is therefore essential that any new technology is accessible, supportive, additive and compliant with UK regulations.

Broadly speaking, vulnerable customers are people from all walks of life who may be more likely to be exposed to harm, or in need of additional support due to temporary, medium-term or long-term circumstances. Many misunderstand the term vulnerability when it comes to patients and service users, to clarify any or many of the circumstances below can mean a user is considered ‘vulnerable’:

  • Low literacy or numerical skills
  • Physical disability
  • Long-Term Sickness
  • Mental health problems
  • Low income/high levels of debt
  • Caring for someone else
  • Being older
  • In abusive relationships

Without a holistic understanding of vulnerability, businesses are missing a valuable opportunity to engage with all those who could benefit from more sensitively designed products and services.

So, how might we begin to design beyond accessibility to ensure we adequately cater to the needs of vulnerable customers?

Understanding vulnerability in digital health

Vulnerability is such a nebulous term and complex concept that is difficult to define it in many ways. Oftentimes it can be conflated with the definition of disability, but that is a limited and reductive viewpoint.

Vulnerability in digital health encompasses various factors, including socioeconomic status, general health, literacy, age, grief, joblessness, and mental health.

For some individuals, accessing and utilising mobile health apps may present barriers related to access to devices, access to WiFi, technology literacy, language proficiency, numeracy  and/or physical impairments. Recognising and addressing the needs of vulnerable patients is paramount for promoting inclusivity, equity, and ethical healthcare delivery in the modern healthcare environment.

Increasing accessibility, support and ensuring regulatory compliance

Designing for vulnerable customers isn’t about partitioning off a part of a service for people that are deemed vulnerable. Nor is it ever about reducing the quality of service to meet additional needs.

To guarantee great outcomes for vulnerable parties, we need to improve the entirety of a service, optimise the potential at each touchpoint, and then provide additional support as people need it.

To ensure accessibility, support, and regulatory compliance in digital health offerings, several strategies can be employed:

  • User-Centric Design: Prioritise user-centric design principles to create intuitive interfaces that are easy to navigate, particularly for individuals with limited technology literacy or cognitive impairments. Incorporate feedback from diverse user groups to enhance usability and accessibility
  • Accessibility: Implement accessibility features, such as screen reader compatibility, voice commands, and adjustable font sizes, to accommodate users with visual or motor impairments. Compliance with accessibility standards, such as the UK Government’s Accessibility Regulations, is essential for maximising inclusivity
  • Multilingual Support: Offer multilingual options for app interfaces, educational materials, and support services to cater to diverse language preferences and ensure that language barriers do not hinder access to healthcare information and resources
  • Compliance with UK Regulations: Ensure that digital health offerings comply with relevant UK regulations, including data protection laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018. Adherence to regulatory requirements demonstrates a commitment to protecting users’ privacy and security

In many cases, partnering with specialist suppliers who are willing to collaborate on business specific challenges will allow your business to leverage their specialist expertise and experience in designing and implementing digital health solutions for vulnerable populations.

By working with an organisation with consultants who have a track record in deep accessibility and supportive solutions work will guarantee the kind of customer outcomes that you would desire for your business.

Examples of inclusive digital health solutions:

Several digital health offerings exemplify the best of inclusivity, support, and regulatory compliance in the space, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but goes a little way to showcase three digital experiences that think deeply about being inclusive for vulnerable customer/patient groups:

NHS App: Developed by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the NHS App provides access to a range of healthcare services, including appointment booking, prescription management, and symptom checking. The app prioritises user privacy and security while offering accessible features for individuals with diverse needs.

Alzheimer’s Society Talking Point: This online community platform, provided by the Alzheimer’s Society, offers support and information for people living with dementia and their carers. The platform features accessible design elements and fosters a supportive community environment.

Wellmind: Developed by the UK’s NHS Digital, Wellmind is a mental health and wellbeing app that offers resources and tools for managing stress, anxiety, and depression. The app incorporates accessibility features and aligns with UK regulations on data protection and privacy.


At Waracle, we are passionate about creating research led design and development sprints that take into account the full spectrum of consumer needs, not merely a small group that represents the general populace. We believe in the transformative potential of digital solutions in the health and want as many people as possible to benefit from the solutions we develop.

By prioritising inclusivity, ethical practices, and collaboration with specialist partners, developers and providers we can create digital health offerings that empower individuals to take control of their health and well-being.

Moving forward, it is imperative to continue advancing efforts to enhance accessibility, support, and regulatory compliance in digital health, fostering a more inclusive and equitable healthcare ecosystem for all in the UK.

If you are building, refining or optimising your health app, get in touch with us to discuss our expertise!

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Sharon Dickie
Sharon Dickie
Chief Operating Officer