By Harsh Vathsangam and Ade Adesanya
Who would have thought that one of the biggest killers of the 21st century would be your couch?
Physical inactivity is one of the biggest silent killers of our time and an important factor in weight loss, heart disease and stroke and diabetes. Given such dire consequences, health practitioners are increasingly incorporating physical activity regimens as part of standard practice to combat chronic diseases.
The most common issues faced by care providers in increasing physical activity are compliance, engagement and scaling. If care providers prescribe 30 minutes of walking every day, they have limited means to ascertain if patients actually follow through. It is often challenging to engage and motivate patients, especially considering that providers are often pressed for time, sometimes seeing more than 10 patients an hour. Given these constraints, how can they ensure that all their patients are motivated to become active without sacrificing on speed and quality of care?
For the past 5 years, we at Moving Analytics have been tackling this problem. We created Movn, a mobile health platform for physical activity engagement. While developing Movn, we interviewed over 150 patients and discovered that reasons for sedentary lifestyles can be distilled to lack of awareness, ability or motivation to be active. In this post, we’re going to share our approach on how care providers can leverage cutting-edge mobile tracking technologies to tackle these issues and engage patients to become active.
For patients to move more and/or determine if they are achieving their daily physical activity goals, they have to be aware how much they are currently moving. With Movn, users can set daily movement goals and the app will track their physical activities (such as walking, running, dancing etc.) using just the sensors on their smartphones, no extra hardware/tracker required. Users can also manually log activities they do without their phones such as swimming or yoga.
Despite, knowing that physical activity is good, many people think they don’t have enough time to stay active due to demands from work, family and friends. However, there are ample opportunities to incorporate physical activity into daily routines and stay active without hitting the gym. Movn uses this concept and helps build tiny habits of activity in a user’s day. Movn uses location, calendar, call status, weather and time of day, to recommend in-the-moment things they can do to stay active, such as; take the stairs instead of the elevator (location), walk around while taking a call (call status), schedule a walking meeting (calendar). If the user is sitting for too long, Movn will remind them to get up and move. If they are regularly active, Movn will congratulate them. By doing so, Movn aims to increase one’s ability to stay active.
Personalization is a key issue. Since people have different personalities there’s no cookie cutter approach to motivating individuals to move more. From our experience we’ve observed that people are either goal oriented, data driven, or socially motivated. As users interact with Movn it builds a model of their personality and uses that model to personalize notifications accordingly. For individuals who seek social support, Movn enables sharing of achievements and feedback from friends. For individuals who are goal oriented, Movn lets them set personal activity targets and prompts them to increase those targets if they regularly achieve them. Movn also provides historical information and insights to motivate data driven individuals.
We’re sure by now, some of you are wondering how Movn will integrate into the current healthcare system. Our research shows that most general practitioners don’t have enough time to care for patients let alone request or look at their activity data. However in cases where patients are at risk for chronic diseases the doctor usually refers them to a lifestyle management program such as a diabetes prevention, weight loss or cardiac rehabilitation program. Within these programs, care providers pay more attention to patients and educate them on healthy food choices and the importance of physical activity. Currently, these programs require patients to log their physical activity on a paper report. From our research, these reports are usually inaccurate due to poor patient recall.
Movn helps simplify this process by aggregating data using just patients’ phones and converting it to actionable information for the provider. Movn provides a web dashboard that care-providers can use to track the physical activities of their clients and provide better-informed coaching. Movn captures information about activity behavioral patterns, when users are most engaged, what types of motivation are most effective etc. Care providers can see trends, identify at-risk patients and track long term progress of individuals under their care. No paper work necessary.
Smartphone-based technologies represent a unique way to support delivery of physical activity interventions by leveraging hardware that is increasingly ubiquitous in daily life. Our aim with Movn is make it easier for patients and providers to better manage this process. After all, we need to beat that couch!
Competing interests: Ade and Harsh are researchers at the University of Southern California and are co-founders of Moving Analytics Inc. They would love to get your feedback on the app and how to get patients moving. Please send them a note at firstname.lastname@example.org