By: Joe Kvedar

Tags: technology

Runner tying sneaker

The idea of helping individuals use activity trackers to improve their health and wellness is something we are passionate about at Partners HealthCare Connected Health.

It's been well documented that activity trackers are widely available and proven to increase physical activity. Yet they are not broadly used – and those who do use them often discontinue use after a short period. Encouraging consumers to incorporate activity trackers in their day-to-day lives could help improve the health of a large segment of the population.

For that reason, we launched Wellocracy, an online resource to educate and empower individuals to use activity trackers, wearable sensors and mobile apps to improve their health and wellness. We even have a quiz that helps identify personality types and then offers consumers advice on matching trackers and apps to their individual goals and motivational characteristics. This is important because, as we've learned through our research, the more personalized we can make the experience, the more successful users will be in maintaining healthy behaviors.

That's why we are especially pleased to have been awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – the largest U.S. philanthropic organization focused solely on health – to develop a novel way to support the sustained use of health and activity trackers to promote physical activity and improve health outcomes. Our “Engagement Engine” will leverage machine learning and other big data analytic tools to convert insights from users into targeted feedback. Following research and testing, the Engagement Engine will be available online through Wellocracy.

Of course, there are already models out there for this type of personalized feedback. Netflix recommends TV shows and movies for you. Amazon recommends books. Google populates the side panels of your browser with ads it feels are relevant to your interests based on your search habits.

Our Engagement Engine will work something like that, but it will have to be much more sophisticated. For example, if Google presents an ad I don’t like, I can simply ignore it. But if we’re going to get to know you well enough to recommend health behaviors or health-related strategies, we can’t get it wrong.

We’re optimistic that we can employ the latest techniques in “deep learning” to learn enough about you that we’ll be able to message you in such a personal, relevant way that you’ll feel excited to engage with us. And we know that improved health outcomes correlate with engagement.

How does this all benefit Partners? We are a provider organization that is taking on more and more insurance risk. The way we will succeed in today’s performance-based reimbursement environment is to more efficiently deploy our human resources over larger and larger populations of patients while maintaining the highest levels of patient care. That can’t be accomplished solely by one-on-one, face-to-face interactions. We have to employ technology to create effective, meaningful, one-to-many relationships. That is our mission at Partners Connected Health.