Sustainable mHealth solutions for health behaviour change: Does it work and what is next?

The value of human health and wellbeing was coined over 2 000 years ago by Roman poet Virgil, when he stated, “The greatest wealth is health.” With the growth of modern civilisation, human beings have come to understand the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, an unhealthy lifestyle is one of the leading causes of long-term or chronic diseases for example cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes etc. Maintaining a healthy life requires improving lifestyle.
hands of a young man with wearable wellness clock
Photo: Luke Chesser, Unsplash

Health promotion actions are important, focusing on changing personal health behaviours. Technological solutions such as mobile health (mHealth) applications might be a promising way to motivate people in encouraging health behaviour change.

What is mHealth?

The Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) defined mHealth as medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as smart devices (phones and tablets), wellness monitoring tools, and other wearable gadgets etc.

A growing number of mHealth applications or a death-valley?

Tons of applications are available in the planet and still wonder how many of them are worthy for example, will the users use them for a while, or do they want to use those in the long term? In most cases, mHealth applications fail in the long term due to users’ loss of interest.

On the way to sustainable mHealth solutions:

The majority of mHealth interventions have not addressed their effectiveness or feasibility. This gives a question of how to proceed in developing sustainable mHealth applications? One possible way is to utilise the human-centered design thinking, in which users are engaged and involved with an iterative process during the design process of value-based mHealth solutions for them. This can help to reduce cost, save time and effort, making the existing applications more sustained in the long term. But how can we do it?

Does mHealth work?

We tried to better understand and find a technique for sustainable mHealth applications. Firstly, we proposed key value propositions to make applications more attractive to the users. Following this, we conducted a study on the human mind and its functions, specifically those affecting health behaviour change. By applying established psychological theories, we designed, developed, and tested human-centric mHealth applications to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The study showed that this technique supports users towards health behaviour change. However, the mHealth solutions did not socialise the users with others.

This is not to say that human does not like to socialise. We always learn from others and human communication or socialising is important towards positive motivation for a healthy lifestyle.

The future aspect of mHealth:

mHealth in future could be something like the wise proverb, “prevention is better than cure”. Therefore, mHealth might support users more towards their health rather than based on their illness and guide them for changing their behaviour. Advanced mHealth applications should be able to engage users for monitoring themselves such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, weight, or physical activity levels. Social interaction with others might be implemented through peering, games, and competitions etc.

Something to think of:

We are on the verge of the transformative age of the new 21st-century digital world. Our day starts with alarm from a smartphone in the morning and ends with a personalised smart-TV to sleep within the late night. However, we should be aware of not exceeding the amount of daily technology usage which might bring imbalance in our digital society. Let us not forget that we are transforming the earth with digital technology and we must bring the best out of it to make the world a healthy place for living!

Sanaul Haque is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oulu with a multidisciplinary background in computer science, telecommunications, business, and medical engineering. He also works as a researcher in the gameCORE Research Centre, Ireland. His work focuses on resilient and sustainable digital solutions towards human behavioural change.