An increase in the incidence of chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, and Type-2 diabetes are driving up health-care costs. A McKinsey & Co. report says 31 percent of those costs are directly attributable to behaviorally-influenced chronic conditions. Poor medication adherence alone costs the U.S. more than $100 billion annually in avoidable health-care spending.
Since patients, insurers and health-care providers are looking for ways to help people adopt or change behaviors to help them manage and treat conditions, and prevent them from developing in the first place, there’s a big potential market for products and services designed to help people change their behavior.
But human behavior is complex, and developing a product to change behavior is challenging. By using techniques like user research and user testing to examine users’ goals, motivations and challenges, and using that information to drive product development, companies can develop products that successfully help people change their behavior.
There are many strategies you can design into a product to help elicit behavior change. A few that are particularly applicable to health-related behaviors are:
- Goal setting: Help your users set realistic, achievable goals.
- Feedback: Provide feedback to your users on their progress.
- Community: Provide opportunities for users to connect with others.
- Reminders: Use reminders to help cue users to action.
2Morrow, a digital health company based in Kirkland, has developed an app designed to help people stop smoking, lose weight and manage stress, anxiety and chronic pain. The company’s programs were created in collaboration with — and based on research by — Jonathan Bricker from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“People engage in behaviors such as smoking or overeating because it serves a purpose for them; in moments of stress, they are likely to default to that habit,” says Jo Masterson, COO of 2Morrow. “Our approach is to find ways to help them figure out bigger goals that will motivate them to break the habit, e.g., they want to be healthy for their kids.”
2Morrow’s smoking cessation app implements several strategies for behavior change. Users can set goals, and receive training and information to help them quit smoking. It provides a connection with a coach, who offers support and encouragement when things get tough, and a feedback mechanism that allows users to see how many days it’s been since they’ve had a cigarette.
For Masterson, the main benefit of the app is that it is nonjudgmental. “People already know what is unhealthy for them; they want help to change it—they want to be good.”
Another local company focused on behavior change is WellPepper. Wellpepper’s app, which won the Alexa Diabetes Challenge in October 2017, engages patients and caregivers to improve management for post-surgical recovery and chronic conditions such as diabetes. Diabetics receive personalized instructions to manage their care, automatic task reminders, and weekly status updates. They also offer customers access to caregivers to ask questions, receive support and determine whether a doctor visit is needed.
Companies seeking to develop a product to engage people in behavior change should conduct user research to determine which strategies are appropriate for their target behavior and users, and user testing to evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies. This user-centered approach to developing products for behavior change has the potential to transform not only people’s health and lives, but also the entire healthcare delivery ecosystem in positive ways.
Chrissy Glaister, the Lead Usability Engineer at Product Creation Studio in Seattle, has over a decade of product development experience. She has participated in the development of mobile health applications, diagnostic devices, drug delivery devices, implantable devices and wearable medical sensors.