Study: AI can predict health engagement

It seems wherever you look, AI technology is on the rise, and now it has the potential to be used in improving health engagement.

A new CSIRO study, which was published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research has shown the potential benefits of using an AI algorithm to improve engagement and health outcomes from digital health programs.

The study, which included more than 59,000 participants from CSIRO’s Total Wellbeing Diet used a CSIRO-developed algorithm that uses AI to predict when a person will drop out of an online weight loss program.

It found that by using machine learning –  a method of “teaching” a computer to recognise patterns by training it on data containing examples – scientists can accurately predict from week three when a user is going to disengage from an online program.

Dr Aida Brankovic, a research scientist with CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre and lead author on the paper, says there’s currently little evidence for how people engage with these programs, especially in terms of when and why they quit.

“Despite the growing application and adoption of technology in health interventions, one persistent challenge remains – engagement deterioration or non-usage attrition,” Dr Brankovic says.

“The successful machine learning model used in the study predicted disengagement from the program on a weekly basis, based on the user’s total activity on the platform, including weight entries from the weeks prior.

“With this information, digital health interventions can become more tailored, supportive and offer users a greater chance of making long-term lifestyle changes.

“Importantly, the machine learning model used in this study can also be adjusted and applied to large cohorts of data in other online programs requiring engagement.”

CSIRO research scientist and co-author of the paper, Dr Gilly Hendrie, says effective engagement in a digital health program is vital to success and yet is also challenged by the fact that it is open to the user’s discretion.

“It is hoped that the findings of this study and future work focussed on other factors of engagement with digital health programs will lead to an improved experience for users, including tailored content at critical time points,” Dr Hendrie says.

With 67% of Australian adults overweight or obese, and obesity and dietary risks accounting for 8% and 5% of the burden of disease respectively, supporting health interventions and lifestyle change is more important than ever.

Engagement in digital behavioural intervention programs that aim to reduce modifiable health risk factors such as obesity and lack of exercise is critical, making the results of this study worth considering.

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