5 Digital Healthcare Lessons from CBC 2019

News - 11th June 2019
By Marek Hasa

Let me start this overview of the key insights I learned at the CBC 2019 by depicting my foggy early-morning journey to the 5th annual conference of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change, which offered me a surprisingly comprehensive reminder of the event’s importance. Embarking the plane and trying to catch my train connection to the city, I ran past dozens of people treating themselves with a proper English breakfast – coffee and cigarettes.

A couple minutes later, I witnessed another interesting sight – a couple of commuters snacking on crisps at 7.30am. Their swollen eyes were signalling both severe sleep deprivation and excessive levels of stress, two conditions most probably shared by the majority of their fellow travellers. And finally, some twenty minutes later, I stepped out into the wilderness of the King’s Cross neighbourhood where I my path was completely blocked by an army of smartphone zombies nervously trying to catch up with the extremely fast-changing world that we live in these days.

My morning journey from Amsterdam was merely one of the testaments to the many public health issues we are currently facing. We need continuous improvement and innovation of our health behaviour change strategies and applications to keep up with the ever-evolving societal problems. And the UCL’s conference on “Behaviour Change for Health: Digital and other Innovative Methods”, during which I also had the honour to present my own research on Dutch healthy lifestyle interventions using mobile apps and social media, seemed like the perfect place to stimulate such thoughts.

The event’s two-day programme offered an incredible amount of captivating insights. Instead of providing you with a tiny glimpse into every this and that, let me focus on my five key lessons learned with regard to the role of digital innovation in future health promotion efforts.

Machine Learning Can Adaptively Personalize Interventions

There are very few domains these days in which data analytics do not play an absolutely fundamental role yet. The opening keynote by Dr Jennifer Turgiss from Johnson & Johnson demonstrated that health promotion will soon be crossed off this list too. This talk focused on the interactions of data science, behaviour science, and technology advances, and showed how this interplay can be of incredible benefit to both researchers and practitioners.

By putting unsupervised machine learning algorithms to use, we are now able to successfully merge datasets acquired from various sources such as mobile apps and tracking devices and draw meaningful conclusions about the target group members’ responses to our tactics. As Dr Turgiss highlighted, there is no one strategy that would be effective for all sub-types of the target audience. Therefore, we should focus on behaviour phenotypes – tracking longitudinal progress of individuals to find behaviour/compliance patterns with Big Data clustering. Further improvements of this approach should allow us to maximize our future interventions’ effectivity with adaptive personalization.

Innovation is Key Also for Evaluation

While still breathing through the post-performance stress after my own talk, I got intrigued by the project presented by Quynh Pham from the University of Toronto. In no more than eight minutes, we learned quite a lot about the functionality of the newly developed Analytics Platform to Evaluate Effective Engagement (APEEE). The platform serves as a very useful tool for real-time quantification and visualization of effective engagement with our intervention.

With geolocation engagement trends calculated from data collected by the participants themselves, APEEE depicts a clear image of an intervention’s reach in real-time. This way, we can make empirical evidence collection much faster and more reliable, which may greatly speed up the whole behaviour change intervention loop.

e-Health Would Greatly Benefit from a Unified Digital Infrastructure

The second keynote of the conference focused on nation-wide opportunities for public health innovation. According Dr Felix Greaves from Public Health England, the UK’s healthcare system should try to harness the potential of digital technologies to create a unified infrastructure including all patient records. Every future public health intervention could then capitalize on this infrastructure, which would incredibly boost its feasibility and cost-effectiveness.

The best thing about this talk was that the speaker was one of the people responsible for such innovations. Therefore, at CBC 2022, maybe we will already hear a talk about what a breakthrough this unified digital infrastructure indeed turned out to be.

Engagement with UX/UI As Important As Engagement with Behaviour Change

One of the several Johnson & Johnson speakers of the event, Nnamdi Ezeanochie, started his talk with an interesting remark – Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) are not suitable for measuring the impact of our interventions anymore. This traditional empirical evaluation method is falling behind due to the outbreak of emerging technologies such as apps or wearables.

The speaker introduced several research methodologies created to tackle this issue, and concluded his talk with an even more crucial claim – engagement with UX/UI design is as much important as engagement with the behaviour change mechanisms. This is an idea we at Pixelfield (mobile app agency in London) very much agree with. You can spend months on planning out the perfect behaviour change model and techniques but if you don’t spend the same amount of energy on designing a delightful and effective user experience too (or don’t hire us to do that for you!), the intervention will be nothing but a waste of time and money.

Peer-to-Peer Healthcare Is All About Sharing Experiences

Another keynote, another great source of inspiration. The closing talk of the conference by Professor Sherry Pagoto from the University of Connecticut offered a deep dive into the mechanisms of health-related social support via digital channels. The concept of Peer-to-Peer Healthcare summarizes the fact that patients with a similar condition are increasingly interconnected, interacting with each other online.

Oh, and there’s one more thing – we will design and develop its own health-focused serious mobile game! The project is still in its infancy but we should be able to share more details with you quite soon – keep checking our blog an subscribe to our newsletter so that no Pixelfield news escape your attention!

The research of Professor Pagoto and her team showed that when it comes to online interactions between patients, more meaningful engagement and stronger intervention social support is generated by personal experiences compared to sharing factual information. Even though patients tend to seek more information from other patients than their doctors, it is the experience of others which actually has an impact on their behaviour change progress.

In sum, not only the CBC 2019 substantially broadened my digital health horizons with insights into digital innovations in healthcare and public health promotion, the conference also had me meet many interesting like-minded people from London, Brussels, the Netherlands or Sri Lanka. Pixelfield is now on the look-out for health-focused innovation projects – if you have an idea of this sort in mind, please visit our contact page and get in touch, we’d be happy to become your tech partners.

Author: Marek Háša

Are you interested in digital health innovations? Connect with me on LinkedIn!

Written by
Marek Hasa
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