Digital Health Tools Offer New Opportunities for Personalized Care

Even the healthcare industry has gravitated toward a digital approach, with smartphones and gadgets providing a way to better track and monitor patients’ regular behaviors. Both health care professionals and employers are able to use devices to track how patients and employees are behaving to help determine the areas where individuals can improve their habits. One of the reasons that these programs have not been as effective is because exercise goals and challenges are usually only short-term, so people don’t tend to continue with any exercise challenges. This universal approach is likely the problem, so experts are beginning to look at how to personalize the way people use digital healthcare so that they behave in way that promotes better health. Healthcare professionals have turned to methods from industries that have offered a more personalized approach in a way that has made businesses more successful, such as Netflix and Google, which offer suggestions based on users’ past behaviors and preferences.

After researching more personalized approaches, a study was conducted on a group of people chosen from 40 US states who were overweight to obese to see what kind of program would encourage those patients to be more active. A six-month program was implemented to monitor daily steps of the four different user groups.

  • The first group (control group) could see their step count, but didn’t have any other feedback about meeting their daily step goal.
  • The second group got feedback that offered support to help participants meet their daily goals and were part of a support game.
  • The third group had a more collaborative type of social incentive to stick to their daily goals and the game emphasized collaboration.
  • The fourth group was entered into an enhanced competition with each other to meet their goals.

The groups that had additional feedback (more than just access to their step count) were more successful in being more active over the six month project. The  3 groups that were a part of a competition were more successful in increasing their daily activity levels, and the group with enhanced competition participants were the most likely to keep being more physically active after the program was over.

A follow-up to this initial project showed that competition worked as a non-customized solution, but there were greater results for a higher number of participants when a more personalized approach was taken to motivating more activity. Before the program, participants were surveyed about their personalities and other aspects of their personalities and needs. The researchers were looking to understand the behavior phenotypes of the participants, or the regular behaviors, experiences, and preferences of those participants. Three primary phenotypes were determined

  • Extroverted and motivated participants made up more than half of the participants. They were more outgoing and more likely to be self-motivated to meet goals. Competitive games worked well for the duration of the game, but once the game was over, they tended to resume their previous more sedentary behaviors. Long-term changes to make this group more active requires an approach that will keep them engaged, including a long-term competitive game.
  • The second identified group was both less active and less social, and they often had less social support and were less active than other demographics. These introverted participants saw the same level of effectiveness over the three types of game activity, and once the game was done, they were more likely to continue to be more active.
  • The third group was at greater risk and tended to be less motivated. Additionally, this group tended to have higher levels of neuroticism, had riskier behaviors, and didn’t get enough quality sleep. None of the three methods worked to change their behavior even during the game. Other methods to inspire them should be considered, such as health coaches since devices are ineffective in changing their behavior.

Understanding a patient’s phenotype can help to modify their behaviors in ways that will have long-term effects.

For more details about the study and results, check out Digital Health Tools Offer New Opportunities for Personalized Care.

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