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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Development and application of destigmatising design principles in sexual health-related technologies Abdulai, Abdul-Fatawu


Background: Digital health technologies are increasingly used to support people living with sexual health-related conditions. Despite stigma being a major issue in sexual health, it is rarely considered in the design of health technologies. How stigma is understood and addressed in the context of digital health technologies remains under-explored. The objective of this dissertation was to develop design principles that would serve as a guide in designing destigmatising sexual health-related websites, and to determine how such principles might be applied. Methods and Results: This research consisted of four studies. 1) A scoping review focusing on studies that explored stigma in relation to the design and impact of sexual health-related web apps on stigma. This review revealed that digital health technologies for addressing stigma could inadvertently perpetuate stigma. 2) A usability and stigma analysis to understand patient perspectives on the usability of a newly developed website and the design of destigmatising websites. This study revealed that destigmatising design principles can be reflected in a trauma-informed care framework. 3) A Delphi study to develop a set of destigmatising design principles with experts in stigma and sexual health-related research, producing 19 items that were mostly emotional and content-related principles. And, 4) a qualitative descriptive study to examine software designers’ perceptions of the applicability of the design principles, which were considered to be important, but largely perceived to be beyond the scope of practice of software designers. Conclusion: The possibility of perpetuating stigma via digital health technologies indicates a need to develop technologies that could alleviate sexual health-related stigma, prevent re-traumatization, and promote emotionally safe user interactions. This research suggests that a trauma-informed care framework, complemented by user-centered design approaches, may help in designing destigmatising digital health technologies. The principles developed in this research offered a useful reference guide for healthcare software designers to help expand the scope of health technology design from a predominant focus on usability and functionality to emotional and non-functional design elements. Further studies are needed to examine the applicability of the principles in practical design situations and to specific conditions.

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