Mobile Health Research Highlight: Theory-driven mHealth

Traditional health care interventions are based on theory, which helps guide the development and evaluation of those interventions. One weakness in mHealth is the lack of theory to drive the rise of innovative technology-based interventions. The next step in the development of mHealth is to use theory to drive the development and evaluation of interventions.

Some existing health behavior models have gained attention for their possibility to explain and predict the efficacy of mHealth. However, an interesting article questions whether our current theories are adequate to explain mobile interventions. Not only does this article provide a good review of mHealth interventions, but also serves as a call to researchers to develop novel dynamic health behavior theories in order to improve mHealth interventions.

Two examples of mHealth research that integrates theory into the design and evaluation of the intervention are by Nundy and colleagues and Klausen and colleagues. Nundy and his team explored existing behavioral models to explain the efficacy of a mobile phone-based diabetes intervention. Klausen and her team described the design and rationale of a randomized controlled trial they are conducting that aims to evaluate a mobile and Web-based intervention to increase physical exercise among adolescents with congenital heart disease.

Like Nundy, Klausen and their teams, many researchers in the area of mHealth know that if we want to increase the quality of mHealth products and research, we need to establish effective theoretical models that better explain our newly touted intervention strategies. If we believe in these methods, it’s incumbent upon us to put these new methods through the necessary research processes to evaluate their efficacy as well as to develop adequate theories to explain why they work. As we better understand the mechanisms behind the behavior changes observed in mHealth interventions, the more we increase our understanding of health behavior change overall.

Look for future research postings that will highlight more trends in mHealth research. If there is a particular topic in mHealth research that you would like us to highlight, feedback is welcome!

Christina Armstrong, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and subject matter expert at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2). Dr. Armstrong has provided clinical services to children, adolescents, and adults for a broad range of conditions such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury, substance use disorder, and autism spectrum disorders.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Read other posts by Dr. Christina Armstrong