One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century will reside within the healthcare domain: around 60% of the world’s adult population is expected to be overweight by 2030 (Kelly et al. 2008). A sedentary lifestyle, including lack of physical activity and poor choice of diet, can lead to serious chronic diseases burdening public spending in this domain. Given the digital revolution which has entered nearly all markets and industries paired with increasing smartphone penetration rates, developers all over the world have responded to this alarming development by creating mobile applications to deliver health interventions. An estimated 100.000 apps have appeared until today in major mobile app stores, creating what is often referred to as the well-being app sector. However, the underlying problems remain: how do we motivate people to initiate the process of changing behaviour on the one hand, and how do we maintain this behaviour over time in way that people internalize it into their daily habits?
Current health apps are often developed without or only little involvement of health professionals, and are hence only weakly backed by scientific evidence or validation (Bujink et al. 2012, Azar et al. 2013, Boulos et al. 2014). Developers most often present island solutions to specific problems, individually collecting, processing and analysing health data. The high fragmentation of this market is thus one of the key problems in itself: the desired lifestyle change, which often entails a number of different problem areas to address, requires users to install a large number of applications. Finding them on the other hand is an enduring process: users have to try and evaluate them by themselves. There is absolutely no tailoring available to users, where users can find apps based on a match of their own requirements, which can be time or geographical limitations for instance, but also their personality.
At PRECIOUS, we are trying to solve a number of these problems with new approaches. In fact, we want to change the process of how users and developers interact with each other, and to change the way how users select applications on their mobile devices. Our approach is based on a simple assumption: if we were able to recommend apps to users that suit their problems, their situation and their personality, we believe the impact of these applications can be drastically increased. Hence, we are currently creating, designing and implementing a holistic eHealth framework, consisting of a highly-modularized system for so-called gamified applications, also including elements from motivational and behaviour change theory. Developers can finally work together for the benefit of their user, but still find opportunities within our ecosystem for monetizing their efforts. We intend a single point of contact with our users: the PRECIOUS app. In contrast to current solutions however, we intend to run third-party apps within our own app, thus we are able to recommend apps to the users that increase the probability of compliance with a specific treatment suggestions. Image for instance the goal of increasing the user’s physical activity level: current apps set specific goals for the user that are harder to achieve over time, offer gamified aspects that target the motivational side of the problem etc. However, within PRECIOUS, we go one step further: how has this application impacted other users that have used it before? What type of users have responded particularly well to it? Does the user actually have time for e.g. going on a 15 minutes run? How is the weather outside, is it actually suited for this intervention suggestion? All these factors need to be considered when suggestion that specific application.
We believe that if we find the right app, for the right person, at the right time, we can achieve a higher impact upon the individual, and have a lasting influence towards healthier behaviour.
- Kelly, T, W Yang, CS Chen, K Reynolds, and J He. 2008. “Global Burden of Obesity in 2005 and Projections to 2030.” International Journal of Obesity 32 (9). Nature Publishing Group: 1431–37.
- Buijink, Arthur Willem Gerard, Benjamin Jelle Visser, and Louise Marshall. 2012. “Medical Apps for Smartphones: Lack of Evidence Undermines Quality and Safety.” Evidence Based Medicine. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, ebmed–d2012.
- Azar, Kristen MJ, Lenard I Lesser, Brian Y Laing, Janna Stephens, Magi S Aurora, Lora E Burke, and Latha P Palaniappan. 2013. “Mobile Applications for Weight Management: Theory-Based Content Analysis.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45 (5). Elsevier: 583–89.
- Boulos, Maged N Kamel, Ann C Brewer, Chante Karimkhani, David B Buller, and Robert P Dellavalle. 2014. “Mobile Medical and Health Apps: State of the Art, Concerns, Regulatory Control and Certification.” Online Journal of Public Health Informatics 5 (3). University of Illinois at Chicago Library: 229.