A Role for Continuous Technology-Enabled Interventions
[Editor’s note: the following is a summary of remarks given by Karen Calfas, one of more than 20 presenters at October’s sustainable behavior change conference, Consumer-Centric Health: Models for Change ’11. View a video clip of Calfas’ presentation on Health Innoventions video channel.]

University of California at San Diego health psychologist, Karen Calfas, Ph.D., explained that the key to driving successful maintenance of behavior change is by employing four components: ubiquitous technology; theory-informed, but user-relevant interventions; high degree of tailoring; and continuous interventions.  Calfas has a long history of conducting research using tech-enabled interventions from a study using text messaging to improve diet (mDiet) in the early 2000’s to current project, SMART, that uses mobile apps and Facebook for weight loss among young adults.  However, “technology components are no substitution for the human interaction,” says Calfas, “and they need to be thought of as ways to enhance it, ways to make it scalable and more accessible.”

Similar to Vic Strecher’s earlier comments, Calfas described the role of theory as a guide to inform, rather than dictate the design of interventions.  “In the end,” stated Calfas, “they [interventions] need to be something that is meaningful to the receiver of it, and if she doesn’t see the meaning and component, then she won’t use it.”  Calfas also advocated for personalized approaches by connecting interventions to the patient’s personal values and mission, among other more individual factors.   Calfas stated that, ultimately, behavior maintenance results from people internalizing and finding more intrinsic rewards for the changes they are making.

However, cautioned Calfas, we may not be keeping interventions going long enough.  “We should not be assuming that if we give patients a little dose of something, but then remove it,” articulated Calfas, “that they’ll be able to continue that [behavior] forever.”  The key is doing continuous interventions, but making sure they “are not really costly, or really involved.”  Given her work on SMART and another research study called Facebook Connect, Calfas sees a big opportunity in leveraging the social component into interventions, a component on which we now have so many new ways of assessing and intervening.

View Calfas’ talk at Models for Change ’11: Mobile & Social Technologies – Applications in Health Behavior Change

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