Behavior Change May Be the Holy Grail of mHealth, but Should it Be?

Sara Jackson over at Fierce Mobile Healthcare wrote an interesting piece this week entitled mHealth’s Holy Grail: Behavior changeJust reading the title I thought it was a pretty obvious statement despite the apparent struggles of developers to actually achieve that.  I totally agreed with the title, but as I read the article it got me thinking about what mHealth is really trying to achieve.

Sara makes a great point that apps need to be developed in such a manner that they are encouraging rather than demoralizing.  She references a paper by Margaret Morris that describes the need for smartphones to become a friend to the users.  Rather than smartphones simply being a tool for reminders and nagging when you don’t meet your goals, they need to be the supportive friend that encourages you through your struggles.

That is where I started to think about the real value of mHealth.

It was actually sad to me at first, because in essence she is saying that a smartphone can replace people in our lives, and that is one of my biggest irritations with technology: We are removing people from the equation.

There is no doubt that mHealth applications and gadgets can be a valuable resource, but when we lose touch with people we are missing something far more valuable.  People are what inspire us to do better.  People don’t quit on us when the batteries run out because we forgot to charge it.  People provide a connection that cannot be replaced by any technology, no matter how amazing it is.

While I agree that a human element is a great attribute of any health related app, that element needs to actually be human.  Simply having the app give encouraging words is not the same thing as encouraging words from a real friend or family member.

The apps that will lead to real behavior change are the ones that will endure long after the app serves its purpose.  They will not only create habit patterns for the user of the app, but they will also establish real relationships for people who genuinely care about your health and well-being.

Social media, and the mHealth portion of it, are rapidly becoming a part of everyone’s life, and that can be a good thing.  If we use that technology to connect and support the people we truly care about then technology has truly made our lives better.  It has provided us a way to connect that was never possible before.  The money that can be  made through mHealth is as elusive as the real Holy Grail, but the impact that it can have on our lives is very real, and very important.