Applying User-Centered Design in the Development of a Supportive mHealth App for Women in Substance Use Recovery

Emery R. Eaves, Eck Doerry, Shana A. Lanzetta, Kathryn M. Kruithoff, Kayla Negron, Kaitlyn Dykman, Olivia Thoney, Calvin C. Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose and Approach: Women in recovery describe stigma, negative treatment, and limited support as barriers to achieving their health and parenting goals. Mobile health technologies carefully tailored to support the unique needs of recovery communities can provide less burdensome alternatives to in-person services for women transitioning out of substance use treatment. An iterative design process integrated women’s interests into the structure, content, and interaction flow of a mobile health (mHealth) app. Setting and Participants: Participants included women in recovery from opioid, alcohol, and polysubstance use disorders in a comprehensive housing program in urban Arizona. Methods: Five focus groups with 3–7 participants each (n = 27 total) informed creation of the mHealth app. Informed by theoretical models of usability and person-centered design, development involved an iterative series of focus groups in which we asked women to comment on interest in using each feature. This provided a qualitative priority framework for feature development. We then modified the app and repeated the process to gauge consensus and continually refine our prototype. Results: Women were interested in access to resources, such as housing, counseling, and parenting advice in settings known to treat women in recovery with respect. They also asked for positive messages, chatting with peers, and access to expert answers. They were less interested in points-based learning modules and “scored” activities, leading us to develop a “daily challenges” concept that builds good habits, but does not feel like “classwork”. Women’s recommendations shaped an mHealth app tailored to maximize utility, access, and safety for this at-risk population. Conclusion: Integration of user-centered design with applied ethnographic techniques guided the development of a custom-tailored mHealth app responsive to lived experiences and needs of women in recovery. Future research should evaluate the potential for user-centered apps to increase self-efficacy, perceived social support, and to reduce risk of relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-64
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • mHealth
  • mobile health applications
  • opioid use disorders
  • qualitative research
  • social support
  • stress management
  • substance abuse
  • substance use disorders
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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