Developing Effective Methods for Electronic Health Personalization: Protocol for Health Telescope, a Prospective Interventional Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2020 Jul 31;9(7):e16471. doi: 10.2196/16471.


Background: Existing evaluations of the effects of mobile apps to encourage physical activity have been criticized owing to their common lack of external validity, their short duration, and their inability to explain the drivers of the observed effects. This protocol describes the setup of Health Telescope, a longitudinal panel study in which the long-term effects of mobile electronic health (eHealth) apps are investigated. By setting up Health Telescope, we aim to (1) understand more about the long-term use of eHealth apps in an externally valid setting, (2) understand the relationships between short-term and long-term outcomes of the usage of eHealth apps, and (3) test different ways in which eHealth app allocation can be personalized.

Objective: The objectives of this paper are to (1) demonstrate and motivate the validity of the many choices that we made in setting up an intensive longitudinal study, (2) provide a resource for researchers interested in using data generated by our study, and (3) act as a guideline for researchers interested in setting up their own longitudinal data collection using wearable devices. For the third objective, we explicitly discuss the General Data Protection Regulation and ethical requirements that need to be addressed.

Methods: In this 4-month study, a group of approximately 450 participants will have their daily step count measured and will be asked daily about their mood using experience sampling. Once per month, participants will receive an intervention containing a recommendation to download an app that focuses on increasing physical activity. The mechanism for assigning recommendations to participants will be personalized over time, using contextual data obtained from previous interventions.

Results: The data collection software has been developed, and all the legal and ethical checks are in place. Recruitment will start in Q4 of 2020. The initial results will be published in 2021.

Conclusions: The aim of Health Telescope is to investigate how different individuals respond to different ways of being encouraged to increase their physical activity. In this paper, we detail the setup, methods, and analysis plan that will enable us to reach this aim.

International registered report identifier (irrid): PRR1-10.2196/16471.

Keywords: eHealth; gdpr; longitudinal study; mHealth; panel study; personalization; persuasive technology; wearables.