According to a new study by the Center for Connected Health and Massachusetts General Hospital published in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the practice of using web-based virtual health and wellness coaches is beginning to show some good results, especially among overweight people who are using the technology to develop better self-management skills.
The recent study showed that overweight people who used web-based virtual coaches showed more commitment to improving their health than those who did not use them, and demonstrates the ability of web-based, mobile health monitors to help people change unhealthy behaviors. The good results are expected to help the virtual coaches gain acceptance among more physicians as a way to promote wellness and help people with chronic conditions like obesity.
The study looked at 70 overweight or obese participants who wore wireless pedometers and were given access to a web database that counted their steps. Only one half of the total group was also furnished with automated, animated virtual coaches that provided personalized feedback based on the counts along with encouragement to set new goals. The results were not surprising in that the group using virtual coaches maintained their average step counts throughout the 12-week study, while those who did not utilize the coaches saw a 14.3 percent decrease. Of the participants using the virtual coaches, nearly 60 percent said the devices motivated them to be more active, while nearly 90 percent said they felt guilty when they missed an online coach appointment.
“The results confirm that virtual coaching can be an important component in the management of chronic conditions as well as in the promotion of healthy behavior. The study pointed out that the technology may also be a useful alternative to conventional office based care and help patients to develop better self-management skills on their own.
The study’s co-author Joseph C. Kvedar, said “New technologies are showing great promise as effective, accessible and inexpensive solutions to a number of chronic health conditions and Internet-based interventions are demonstrating reductions in weight using a combination of self-monitoring, education and motivational messaging. We believe these results may be further enhanced with the addition of automated coaching, to promote accountability and adherence.” As the United States faces a rapidly aging population accompanied by an ongoing shortage of healthcare providers, the use of virtual health coaching may prove very useful going forward.