Health Apps Ability to Alter Patient Behavior

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There are various health, fitness, and medical apps (applications) that may very well exceed the 40,000 mark. There exists a variety from references to calculators to journals to tracker apps, seen in apps like diabetes managers and heart rate monitors. And although such apps are viewed as ‘cool’ and ‘convenient’ much can be accomplished by smartphone applications as they work to prompt and encourage health lifestyles among users.

Likewise, medical researchers and practitioners have adopted a similar stance on smartphone app technology.

Yet, an ongoing study of 222 smartphone apps that provide tips, advice, and treatment for pain discovered that a lot of these apps were significantly lacking in a scientifically rooted base; and that most presented no proof of healthcare professional involvement.health app

In addition, healthapp users are aware of the intrinsic problems found in most health-related apps, as one reports reveals 26 percent of users who download health apps use them only once.

“The real key to changing behavior, not just in healthcare but in any consumer experience, is to help people do what they already want to do. That's motivation. There's no way you can browbeat someone to do something they don't want to do. You can just take that one off the table. To help them to do what they want to do, you have to make it really easy to do that thing. That's ability. And then you need a trigger, a reminder, to prompt behavior,” said psychologist BJ Fogg, PhD.

Fogg states that making adjustments to an app’s content won’t make it any more effective than it already may be. In order for apps to truly be effective, Fogg suggests building an app from the ground-up that focuses on “persuasive technology,” a phrase coined by Fogg that integrates mobile technology and the psychological theories and techniques of behavior modification.

“Mobile technology is getting better at understanding where we are, how busy we are, and what our current goal is. In the future, it will get a lot better at prompting us to do the behaviors needed to follow a diet or a medication regimen at a context-sensitive time, not in the middle of us giving a talk at a business meeting. But until then, a lot of behavioral interventions won't work because app designers are thinking not of people's everyday lives, but rather, ‘We're sitting here in an office, and we're engineers. And what we're designing is really great. How can people not do this?" he said.

Fogg doesn’t discredit the possibility of apps helping people adopt healthier lifestyles, however Fogg sees the people behind this technology, software engineers and cognitive scientists, whose paths don’t usually intersect, must seek each other out and work together if any long-term success will be achieved.

“You need a scientist, perhaps a physician, to tell you, ‘What are the behaviors we want the patient with diabetes to do?’ not look at the content. As for the technology, I think the technology will naturally follow. You also need someone who has expertise in evaluating outcomes to run a study and evaluate whether X, Y, or Z behavior that experts feel a patient with diabetes needs to do was actually achieved with the use of the app. I think it has to happen. Otherwise, it's like every pharmacist just making up medications and saying, ‘Here they are.’ There will ultimately probably be many competing ways to evaluate apps and give prescribers confidence regarding which apps will really help them and which apps won't.”

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