Background: Self-reported alcohol misuse remains high in armed forces personnel even after they have left service. More than 50% of ex-serving personnel meet the criteria for hazardous alcohol use; however, many fail to acknowledge that they have a problem. Previous research indicates that interventions delivered via smartphone apps are suitable in promoting self-monitoring of alcohol use, have a broad reach, and may be more cost-effective than other types of brief interventions. There is currently no such intervention specifically designed for the armed forces.
Objective: This study sought to describe the development of a tailored smartphone app and personalized text messaging (short message service, SMS) framework and to test the usability and feasibility (measured and reported as user engagement) of this app in a hard-to-engage ex-serving population.
Methods: App development used Agile methodology (an incremental, iterative approach used in software development) and was informed by behavior change theory, participant feedback, and focus groups. Participants were recruited between May 2017 and June 2017 from an existing United Kingdom longitudinal military health and well-being cohort study, prescreened for eligibility, and directed to download either Android or iOS versions of the "Information about Drinking for Ex-serving personnel" (InDEx) app. Through the app, participants were asked to record alcohol consumption, complete a range of self-report measures, and set goals using implementation intentions (if-then plans). Alongside the app, participants received daily automated personalized text messages (SMS) corresponding to specific behavior change techniques with content informed by the health action process approach with the intended purpose of promoting the use of the drinks diary, suggesting alternative behaviors, and providing feedback on goals setting.
Results: Invitations to take part in the study were sent to ex-serving personnel, 22.6% (31/137) of whom accepted and downloaded the app. Participants opened the InDEx app a median of 15.0 (interquartile range [IQR] 8.5-19.0) times during the 4 week period (28 days), received an average of 36.1 (SD 3.2) text messages (SMS), consumed alcohol on a median of 13.0 (IQR 11.0-15.0) days, and consumed a median of 5.6 (IQR 3.3-11.8) units per drinking day in the first week, which decreased to 4.7 (IQR 2.0-6.9) units by the last week and remained active for 4.0 (IQR 3.0-4.0) weeks.
Conclusions: Personnel engaged and used the app regularly as demonstrated by the number of initializations, interactions, and time spent using InDEx. Future research is needed to evaluate the engagement with and efficacy of InDEx for the reduction of alcohol consumption and binge drinking in an armed forces population.
Keywords: alcohol misuse; armed forces; behavior change techniques; binge drinking; ex-serving; mobile phones; smartphone; text messaging.
©Daniel Leightley, Jo-Anne Puddephatt, Norman Jones, Toktam Mahmoodi, Zoe Chui, Matt Field, Colin Drummond, Roberto J Rona, Nicola T Fear, Laura Goodwin. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (http://mhealth.jmir.org), 11.09.2018.