PhD Dissertation Defense: Fatima Varzgani

Friday, December 8, 2023
11:00 am to 1:00 pm
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A Structured Persona Development Methodology for Designing Digital Health Interventions 


User needs and challenges within the digital health landscape undergo continual evolution, influencing the effectiveness of healthcare services. This transformative shift aims to reconfigure healthcare by prioritizing patients in the design process, where the creation and application of personas play a pivotal role. Persona development in digital health demands careful planning, rigorous data collection, and meticulous analysis. Despite the widespread use of personas in various studies, the lack of standardized approaches for developing personas, particularly using qualitative data collection methods, poses challenges for cross-study comparisons and scientific replication. Therefore, the objective of this dissertation is to develop a structured process model for persona development in digital health.

This dissertation conducts a thorough exploration of persona development within the dynamic domain of digital health, aiming to establish a systematic, evidence-based, and adaptable approach tailored to the intricacies of digital health applications. The investigation integrates a systematic literature review with practical insights derived from two in-depth case studies strategically chosen to provide a comprehensive understanding of persona development in digital health, spanning both general and niche contexts. Case Study 1, centered on designing a smartphone application for diabetes management, illustrates how carefully crafted personas can address common healthcare challenges where patients can talk about their conditions openly. Proto personas, developed through a workshop with experts, and user personas derived from real diabetic patients exemplify the tailored solutions personas can offer. Case Study 2 shifts the focus to the sensitive domain of suicide prevention, where we had to rely more on indirect methods of patient data collection. It showcases the comprehensive process of proto persona creation through expert interviews, and user persona development through interviews with patients with lived experience of suicidality and self-reported data of current patients at risk of suicide.

Building on insights from the case studies, this research introduces a structured process model for persona development in digital health. It provides a consistent and methodical approach for future researchers who aim to integrate personas into health technology design, enabling cross-study comparisons. This step-by-step guide for persona development can address the underutilization of personas in digital health research, as personas are rarely reported in healthcare literature The process model can be used as starting point for researchers to enhance the model with insights from additional case studies. Additionally, the study introduces the concept of persona hierarchies, providing an organized method for analyzing and prioritizing user segments, thus contributing a unique perspective to the existing literature.

Dissertation Committee:
Prof. Soussan Djamasbi, PhD, WPI (Co-Chair)
Prof. Bengisu Tulu, PhD, WPI (Co-Chair)
Prof. Celine Larkin, PhD, UMass Chan Medical School

December 8, 2023 (Friday)

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Zoom link

Room: FL311 - Classroom


Fatima Varzgani

 Fatima Varzgani
PhD Candidate

Fatima’s research interests are design thinking and human computer interaction, especially persona development in healthcare. Her dissertation focuses on developing a systematic methodology for persona development for designing digital health tools and technologies. This research has resulted in three conference proceedings and two journal publications.




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Fatima Varzgani