A smartphone-based technique to detect dynamic user preferences for tailoring behavioral interventions: Observational utility study of ecological daily needs assessment

Ginger E. Nicol, Amanda R. Ricchio, Christopher L. Metts, Michael D. Yingling, Alex T. Ramsey, Julia A. Schweiger, J. Philip Miller, Eric J. Lenze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Mobile health apps are promising vehicles for delivering scalable health behavior change interventions to populations that are otherwise difficult to reach and engage, such as young adults with psychiatric conditions. To improve uptake and sustain consumer engagement, mobile health interventions need to be responsive to individuals’ needs and preferences, which may change over time. We previously created an ecological daily needs assessment to capture microprocesses influencing user needs and preferences for mobile health treatment adaptation. Objective: The objective of our study was to test the utility of a needs assessment anchored within a mobile app to capture individualized, contextually relevant user needs and preferences within the framework of a weight management mobile health app. Methods: Participants with an iOS device could download the study app via the study website or links from social media. In this fully remote study, we screened, obtained informed consent from, and enrolled participants through the mobile app. The mobile health framework included daily health goal setting and self-monitoring, with up to 6 daily prompts to determine in-the-moment needs and preferences for mobile health–assisted health behavior change. Results: A total of 24 participants downloaded the app and provided e-consent (22 female; 2 male), with 23 participants responding to at least one prompt over 2 weeks. The mean length of engagement was 5.6 (SD 4.7) days, with a mean of 2.8 (1.1) responses per day. We observed individually dynamic needs and preferences, illustrating daily variability within and between individuals. Qualitative feedback indicated preferences for self-adapting features, simplified self-monitoring, and the ability to personalize app-generated message timing and content. Conclusions: The technique provided an individually dynamic and contextually relevant alternative and complement to traditional needs assessment for assessing individually dynamic user needs and preferences during treatment development or adaptation. The results of this utility study suggest the importance of personalization and learning algorithms for sustaining app engagement in young adults with psychiatric conditions. Further study in broader user populations is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere18609
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Behavior intervention
  • Behavior therapy
  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Mobile applications
  • Mobile health
  • Needs assessment
  • Telemedicine


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