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Harvey Wells, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health designs new healthy lifestyle smartphone app

Smartphone screenshotDaniel BressingtonThe Application to Improve Motivation (AiM) is the result of three years research to create the most effective mobile application to motivate people to change their lives for the better. The app was developed in collaboration with Dr Daniel Bressington, Honorary Lecturer in the School of Nursing at Kingston and St George’s.  It was designed to help people trying to make healthy behaviour changes.  As anyone that has tried to lose weight or stop smoking will know, changing our behaviours is challenging.  Accessing support from a healthcare professional to stop smoking or lose weight can also be difficult; you may have to be on a waiting list for some time or may be costly if you seek private help. Once you do get help, these resources aren’t always available when you most need them.

In a conversation with Harvey Wells, he explains his motivation behind the app, how it differs from other apps, and how the project is going.

Harvey WellsWhat was the inspiration behind the app?
We wanted to develop AiM so that the general public would have easy and affordable access to the tools and techniques that have proven effective in clinical practice for helping people change problematic health behaviours. Developing a smartphone app seemed to be the most obvious solution as they are relatively inexpensive and available to the user when they need it, not just when the healthcare professional is available.

Why is this app going to work where others have failed?
This app is more likely to help you change your behaviours than other apps because it is based on proven counselling approaches. Most other motivational apps rely on external triggers for behaviour change (such as motivational messages or providing basic information).Unlike other applications, AiM is highly personalised and functions are specifically tailored to an individual’s targets and needs. The app encourages the user to consider their reasons for change, create personal goals and generate a tailored plan of action.

How is the project going overall?
The app was launched in January so we have been working on getting the word out there about the app. The feedback we have received so far has been very positive. For example, one user of the app, provided a review on Google Play: “The app is incredibly helpful for anyone seeking change or professionals facilitating it. It gives excellent guidance on ways of making change happen. It is an easy wonderful tool to refer to. I highly recommend it” whilst another on iTunes reported: “I’ve been using this app for the last few months and it’s really helped me keep my motivation up to lose weight. I’ve lost 14lb since the New Year using this app.”

It is currently being evaluated in a clinical trial an adjunct to weekly counselling in a substance misuse service and is part of an extensive research strategy that includes:

  • an evaluation of a smartphone app as a public health intervention
  • the health economics of smartphone apps to support health behaviour change.

We are also are in discussion with other organisations to develop a new app based on AiM:

  • For people with intellectual disability with a history of sexual offences
  • For a European randomised control trial for people with anxiety and people with psychosis.

 

Smartphone screenshotSmartphone screenshotHow does the app relate to your work at KU?
There has been a gradual shift in the emphasis of training tomorrow’s health and social care professionals. There is now a greater concern with public health interventions and helping to make improvements to people’s well-being in order to relieve the burden on overwhelmed services. This means our students need to be prepared to offer resources to their clients and patients to help them lead healthier lives rather than wait until people become ill and treat them.  The app integrates ideas that we are teaching our students, such as therapeutic interventions and health promotion, to help prepare our students for using these tools in practice.

However, this app is also a resource that can help our students to lead healthier lives and experience greater well-being whilst studying. It is normal for our motivation to study to decrease if we are on a long course of study.  The app has a number of tools and techniques to help build motivation to study and improve the user’s engagement with learning. What is important is that the app tailors the strategies to the individual.

AiM is available on Android (£1.99) and Apple (£2.29) devices for and all money raised from purchasing the app will be used for further research and analysis. User information will be collected anonymously and used for further research by Dan and Harvey.

Further information can be find out on www.my-aim.net