Impacting Behavioural Change: Which Concepts Work For mHealth?

 

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Personalised content: reminders, educational tools and dashboards are the app features which currently provide the simplest and most effective means to positively impact user behavioural change, according to mHealth experts.

 

One promise of mHealth apps is that they can encourage behavioural change. Although the majority of applications cannot live up to this promise because they fail to retain users, publishers have developed a broad variety of app features to change user habits, ranging from simple reminders and user-generated content to financial incentives and direct messaging from healthcare professionals.

In our 2015 mHealth App Developer Economics Survey, which drew upon responses from 5,000 industry experts, we investigated which concepts are proving most effective in impacting user behaviour change. We found that 60% of mHealth experts believe dashboards to be the simplest and most effective feature to implement, followed by personal reminders (49%). Whilst direct user interaction with a doctor, e.g. sharing weekly test results and receiving feedback had the highest positive impact on behaviour change, experts conceded that it was currently the most difficult feature to implement.

 

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Gamification and gamified features too can be effective in driving behavioural change and currently, 28% of mHealth app publishers have adopted these features. Our survey found that gamification can have a particularly significant impact in changing children’s behaviour and in ensuring a patient’s compliance with treatment plans. According to publishers however, gamification does not work effectively when concepts are simply transferred from solution to solution. As one survey respondent aptly commented, the “gamification [of an app] is on one level easy. On the other, it is very difficult to create a truly immersive ‘game’ experience for patients”. In short, gamified approaches have to be adapted to provide more effective and targeted support e.g. encouraging diabetes or stroke patients to test glucose levels or engage in brain exercises.

Offering financial incentives for demonstrable behaviour change has also proven a popular topic of conversation. Companies currently use direct financial rewards, reduce deductibles within health plans or offer redeemable coupons for products or services and incentives are being offered for example, in return for providing daily feedback over a week, executing a step challenge or going to the gym 3 times a week in a month.

Health insurance companies in particular are well positioned to provide economic incentives in return for behaviour change. The majority of insurers are still hesitant to proceed, but pioneers have shown how financial reward systems can be linked to app solutions. Oscar Health are a notable example, with customers able to receive a free Misfit wristband pedometer that connects to Oscar’s app solution, linking customer biometric information directly to the insurer. Customers are rewarded for staying active, using the ‘3rd party incentive’ model. Each day, a target for the number of steps to move is set. If the target is achieved, the customer earns $1 (up to $240 a year). If targets are met 20 times for example, an Amazon gift voucher worth $20 can be redeemed.

Despite the seeming success of such solutions however, mHealth app publishers perceive the current impact of financial incentives to be limited and difficult to implement. Therefore, only 20% of mHealth app publishers use financial incentives within their app portfolio at present.

For more insights into the current relationship between Health Insurers and mHealth, please see our mHealth Insurance App Benchmarking 2015 report which details current industry best practices.

The 6th edition of our mHealth App Developer Economics will launch in February 2016. We warmly encourage your participation.

Our 2015 mHealth App Developer Economics Survey, is available to download now for free.

As always, we welcome your feedback and comments.

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