The Surprising Truth About Behaviour Design in Digital Health Apps

In recent years, digital health applications which aim to improve health outcomes through the use of technology, have become increasingly popular. You can find a large variety of them: tracking physical activity, monitoring vital signs, and health prevention (encouraging healthy behaviors). However, the success of these apps often depend on their ability to effectively design for user behavior. This is where behavior design comes in.

Behavior design is the process of designing apps and services that focus on behavior change. It involves understanding the factors that influence human behavior and using that knowledge to design interventions that encourage positive behavior change. Creating the ultimate nudging experience in which the users are subtly swayed. And in healthcare that is very much needed. Digital health applications can benefit greatly from behavior design principles, as they can help to ensure that the app is effective in promoting healthy behaviors and improving health outcomes.

One study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that behavior change techniques were effective in promoting physical activity among sedentary adults. The study used a smartphone app to deliver behavior change interventions, including goal setting, feedback, and social support. It was quite simple, and the app was successful in increasing physical activity levels among participants.

In healthcare we know that prevention is key, and besides sedentarism, another big problem we face as a society is overeating. Another study found that self-monitoring, goal setting, and feedback were effective behavior change techniques for improving dietary intake. The study used a mobile app to follow the participants and found that those who received the interventions, had significant improvements in their dietary intake compared to those who did not.

These studies demonstrate the potential of digital health applications to promote behavior change and improve health outcomes. However, it is important to note that the effectiveness of these apps depend heavily on the design of the intervention. Effective behavior design involves understanding the factors that influence behavior, such as motivation, self-efficacy, and environmental factors, and designing interventions that address these factors.

Can we use digital health applications to improve health outcomes? The answer is yes, by promoting behavior change through it’s very core and design. The effectiveness of these apps depend on the design of the intervention. Behavior design principles, such as understanding the factors that influence it and designing interventions that address these factors, can be used to create effective solutions.


Direito, A., Jiang, Y., Whittaker, R., Maddison, R. (2014). Apps for IMproving FITness Inrtegration with Motivational interviewing (the AIMFIT trial): Protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(10): e220. doi:10.2196/jmir.3609

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Turner-McGrievy, G. M., Beets, M. W., Moore, J. B., Kaczynski, A. T., Barr-Anderson, D. J., Tate, D. F. (2013). Comparison of traditional versus mobile app self-monitoring of physical activity and dietary intake among overweight adults participating in an mHealth weight loss program. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 20(3), 513–518. doi:10.1136/amiajnl-2012-001510