Riding the waves of mHealth development
By Artur Direito, on 3 October 2017
By Dr. Kristina Curtis, Research Fellow in eHealth and behaviour change for Coventry University and Public Health Warwickshire
I started researching the area of mhealth in 2011 as part of my PhD at Warwick University. Specifically, I was interested in how we could embed behaviour change theory into mobile health tech to manage and prevent overweight and obesity. I gained the opportunity to make this into an applied project and develop a family weight management app to complement local public health family weight management services.
I selected the Behaviour change Wheel (BCW) framework to guide development because it was underpinned with a comprehensive model of behaviour change (Capability, Opportunity, Motivation and Behaviour Model: COM-B) that accounted for both environmental and automatic influences on behaviour foregone in traditional health psychology theories. It also linked conditions in the model to relevant behaviour change strategies (known as intervention functions and behaviour change techniques) to bring about change. Lastly, it really made me think about what was the actual target behaviour that I wanted to change and that less is more which in the case of apps, is vital. While theory and evidence are important for app development, there are other factors to consider. App features need to be engaging for the target audience. This led to combining the BCW with a User-centred-design (UCD) approach and working with industry to help ensure that the theoretical components were translated into engaging app features.
At the same time as systematically designing the app and conducting research with parents, I also worked alongside an experienced app development company. Working with industry was great fun, particularly brain storming the translation of behaviour change techniques and user preferences into engaging app features. Unfortunately, the budget ran out and I was unable to continue working with this company. I moved the project to a start-up company who unfortunately were not as experienced in mobile app development and although the app now looks great, the download process for the trial was too complicated and sadly only a few parents went onto download the app after completing baseline measures.
Frustratingly, although I have developed the first theory and evidence based, user-centred app for managing parents’ portion control behaviours with their children, it’s still unavailable to the public due to implementation issues (pertaining to both the local authority and technical development of the app). Nonetheless, I have learnt a great deal in the process and felt it would be beneficial to share details of how we can avoid some of the pitfalls in app development. The ‘Appiness’ event is a mhealth and public health interdisciplinary event showcasing apps for improving the public’s health and well-being. The content will cover different approaches to app development and evaluation and how to maximise user-engagement. It will end with a panel discussion on the challenges and future directions within mhealth. We have a range of speakers from local authority (Hertsmere Borough Council), the NHS (Health Education England), charity (Diabetes UK), the app industry (Headspace) and academia (UCL & Glasgow University). Speakers will cover a range of health topics including: weight management, diabetes prevention, alcohol reduction, physical activity and mental health.
Please visit www.hpphn.org.uk to register now!
Practical questions to think about for mhealth development and implementation include:
- What are the most important things to look for when choosing an app development company?
- What are the realistic costs associated with app development?
- What steps can universities and local health authorities take to ensure a smooth process in implementation?
- How can interdisciplinary teams work more efficiently together?
Kristina spent the early part of her career working in the digital marketing industry before returning to studies and taking up the role of a Research Fellow in eHealth and behaviour change for Coventry University and Public Health Warwickshire. Kristina’s role primarily focuses on the development of a decision support tool to embed behavioural science into the public health commissioning process. Kristina continues to collaborate on interdisciplinary eHealth projects in the areas of paediatric overweight and obesity, paediatric sickle-cell disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes prevention. She is driven by the potential of her work to have a direct impact on the health of populations both in the UK and overseas.