Developing an mhealth intervention: Key challenges and lessons from Growing healthy

Laws, R. Campbell, K. Ong, K. Azadi, L. Elliot, R. Russell, G. Denney-Wilson, E.
Publication type: 
Conference presentation
Stream 1 Families with young children

International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity Meeting, Edinburgh

Objective: Mobile phone based (m-health) interventions are becoming increasingly popular modes of delivering health behaviour interventions. There is however scant literature to guide researchers through the development process.  The aim of this paper is to share the key lessons learnt in the development of the Growing healthy program, a m-health intervention targeting healthy infant feeding practices for socio-economically disadvantaged parents.

Methods:  The growing healthy program was developed over an 18 month period and consists of a purpose designed app and website. Users receive 3 messages a week tailored to their baby’s age and current feeding method, linking users to the relevant information in the app or website. The development of the program was guided by intervention mapping and involved 1) audit of existing relevant apps/website 2) literature reviews and extensive formative work with end users to inform choice of intervention targets and strategies and 2) user testing to enhance app engagement and usability. Researchers documented development challenges and lessons throughout the process. 

Results: Project timeline and budget, together with types of phones used by the target audience is a key factor influencing the design features of m-health interventions. Formative work in understanding the ‘app’ market place and preferences of end users is critical in designing an m-health intervention that is engaging. Use of behaviour change theory is important in shaping intervention strategies and key app/website features. Push notifications/text messages are key to engaging participants in the intervention and these need to be tested with end users to inform frequency, tone, and degree to which messages are tailored. Extensive user testing is required to enhance intervention usability and functionality. Finally, consideration needs to be given in the design phase to how data collection for research purposes is to be integrated into m-health intervention to maximise completion rates and retention.  

Conclusion: Developing m-health interventions is a relatively new endeavour for physical activity and nutrition researchers. This paper provides some practical insights into the process and key lessons for future researchers.