Health IT potential for patient behavior remains untapped

Although information technology certainly has the ability to change patient behaviors, a lot of untapped potential remains, according to researchers published last week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Such capabilities and risks, they concluded, "are not being fully explored." What's more, they said, interactions between different technology components have not been analyzed sufficiently.

The researchers combed through 41 relevant studies, examining the extent to which various technologies--such as wearable sensors and mobile phone apps--helped patients to stay fit and track calories. Overall, they determined the effect of technology on actual behavior to be mostly positive but said that more work should explicitly focus on the functions of active technologies, such as interactive education and self-monitoring.

"Behavior change research needs to be informed by a deep understanding of algorithms and techniques that can support interventions," the researchers wrote. "For this purpose, interdisciplinary collaboration with computer science and cognitive science is needed."

Future literature should examine the potential risks of such technologies more thoroughly, according to the study's authors. "Risks such as misinformation due to the unexpected behavior of an algorithm may be more difficult to uncover," they said. "It is important to study realistically complex scenarios of the uses of active assistance systems. Such studies need to reveal how the system components interact to produce information and how these components might in turn interact with wider systems such as the Semantic Web, clinical records and personal health records."

In a commentary for FierceMobileHealthcare last month, Sara Jackson pointed out that behavior change in patients--getting them to make healthier choices and stick to health regimens--has remained elusive and is the true Holy Grail of mHealth and other technologies. With that in mind, it's not surprising that there still appears to be a ways to go for technology to truly be meaningful to behavioral change.

To learn more:
- read the JMIR study

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