Can the smartphone to be both a barrier and an aid to improve our health? Can the same device to which we are hooked become a tool to be healthier? It seems so: persuasive design comes to the rescue of health.
And why do we have to persuade anyone? Because it is difficult to fight against the external stimuli that encourage us precisely the opposite: to eat unhealthy, to remain seated in front of the screens … We master the theory to change habits, but to put into practice is not easy. And here comes the debate (and we already noticed that it is not difficult to get involved in it). Should governments, administrations, health or professional organizations influence through any means the behavior of citizens to help them consolidate healthy habits?
It is not a difficult task. In fact, the DGT does it in its campaigns to avoid accidents or the Treasury when it reminded us that Treasury we are all appealing to our civic values (with more or less success). And any health professional also tries it on a daily basis through health promotion campaigns that are perhaps too paternalistic, if not antiquated in their design.
But do we really think that the rational information offered by professionals can compete with the thousands of inputs What do we receive through marketing campaigns of fast food chains, video game companies or online betting companies, for example, that want us sedentary and with a fixed focus on their products? So maybe the professionals, but also the administration and anyone interested in the health of society, we need to change strategies and weapons of persuasion and use the techniques of enemy. And how?
Simplifying the applications that monitor our physical activity and allowing them to be part of an ecosystem that is shared and used in public and private health systems. Can you imagine what useful information we could share with the professionals who watch over our health? What could they prescribe certain interventions to maintain a healthy lifestyle? It can be done and it is not difficult (at least to say): developing motivating, attractive and understandable contents and integrating new technologies so that the appropriate advice comes at the right time and the right professional.
2- Designing applications that can to learn of our habits. The goal is the same: to receive good advice at the time we need it. The app UBESAFE, from the UOC and the Public Health Agency of Barcelona, offers information on protection in the case of risky sexual relations just when the users of this app enter spaces that they themselves have identified as potentially dangerous.
Good ideas, good results
Many universities already have technological persuasion laboratories with very interesting initiatives. This is the case of the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, where they have created a system of coaching Virtual approach that uses psychological persuasion to improve the recovery and therapeutic adherence of patients with myocardial infarction or to motivate people undergoing diets to lose weight.
Another success story is that of Behavioral Insight Team, a British organization that has among its advisors Richard Thaler (Nobel Prize in Economics). In this center they are working on initiatives to fight against smoking, diabetes or teenage pregnancies and to promote organ donation and physical activity.
They use such strategies simple like to assume that, if in life we do not say the opposite, it is understood that we are all donors. In other words, and taking a term from behavioral economics, it is understood that by omission, also called condition opt-in, we are all donors. In other countries you have to register in advance (in some cases when you have your driving license), in what is called a condition opt-off.
Well, taking an administrative decision or another (in the Spanish case through the Transplant Law) can, as in our country, place us at the head of something as altruistic, necessary and supportive as donating organs. Let's thank the doctors, yes, but also the architects of the behavior, because in this case the jog so that we donate works perfectly.
Another good example of persuasion through technology is the app The Fabulous, developed on the basis of the theories of behavioral economics, or behavioral economics, with the participation of design change behavior experts such as Dan Ariely, from Duke University in the United Kingdom. This application motivates its users to follow healthy habits to improve their quality of life. Your coach helps you lose weight, sleep and concentrate better. How? Through personalized tips and routines based on daily habits.
Be creative to win
You can not compare the funds devoted to health promotion with advertising and marketing budgets of some multinationals. Without a doubt, it is a real struggle between David and Goliath. But David was creative and ended up winning Goliath, although not in a very orthodox way, everything has to be said. Perhaps in the field of health, the sling of David must be replaced by a good technological application that allows us to persuade and persuade us to maintain healthy habits with our consent and complicity.
Manuel Armayones He is director of Development of the eHealth Center of the UOC and professor of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences.