mHealth – Can Mobile Technology Change Health Behavior. Third in a series..


So most people have one, a mobile phone or a smart phone or they are moving rapidly to get them, but can they impact an individual in regards to their health?

Interesting to think about, is that as I noted in my first post on this topic Will mHealth Revolutionize Health Care? – First in a Series.. , the average person looks at their phone 30 times per day, sounds like in many ways behavior change has already occurred.  Additionally a mobile or smart phone is one of the few things besides your wallet or your keys that you will go back inside to get when you leave your home and we now have the makings of a new psychological disorder, nomophobia,  the fear of losing ones mobile phone. So yes I believe mobile phones have already demonstrated the ability to change behavior, but how about health behavior.

Clinical psychiatrist Margaret Morris of Intel has listed 7 tips for motivating health behavior change via mobile . One of her quotes is:

“The very close relationships that people have with their devices set the stage for meaningful health coaching,” or fear of loss of the device!

So we should be able to agree that a mobile phone is a unique device, that an individual can  in fact establish a relationship with and one and that it has demonstrated the ability to change behavior in some areas..

Furthermore because it is normally always with us,  it is there when we are ready to be nudged, reminded, assisted, rewarded, and/or motivated, and that is the key. We no longer need to take the call from the health coach at the most inopportune times, wait until we get home to log into our computer, or try to find the time, we can access the information when we are ready and willing.

If you are interested in this area of using mobile technology to create behavior change you really need to look at the work of BJ Fogg at the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab.  BJ Fogg’s Behavior Grid shows “15 ways behavior can change”, with each using “different psychology strategies and behavior technique”. His work  is really at the forefront of this burgeoning movement.

So what are the real world examples of behavior change utilizing mobile technology?

The World Health organization discussed 2 studies where text messaging was shown to improve adherence to HIV Antiretroviral Therapy in Africa.

In a review of the literature published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2009, a review of 14 peer-reviewed studies looking at SMS text messaging to influence health behavior change found that positive behavior change was found in 13 of them.

A study with a small group of Diabetics using a web enabled mobile device with a diabetes management program showed some improvement in those who used the system, but not all measured areas improved.

We are beginning to see more uses and studies and while the results are early they are pointing in the right direction.  Now back to my smart phone to open foursquare and check in at my current location, I hate falling behind my friends.

If you are interested in some of the citations, please contact me.

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About Fred Goldstein

President and Founder of Accountable Health, LLC. My background includes over 25 years of health care experience in hospital administration, health plan management, disease management and population health.
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