Barriers and Considerations in the Design and Implementation of Digital Behavioral Interventions: Qualitative Analysis
Background: Digital behavioral interventions have become increasingly popular for their ability to support patient diagnosis and treatment, chronic disease self-management, behavior change, and adherence to recommended care. However, digital intervention development is impeded by challenges such as limited technical skills, limited access to developers, and cost. The purpose of this study is to elicit in-depth qualitative feedback from intervention developers who have interest in digital behavioral interventions but lack programming skills regarding the barriers they experience and key considerations in the design and implementation of digital interventions.
Objective: This study aims to understand barriers in the design and implementation of digital behavioral interventions, as well as to identify key considerations for researchers who are developing these interventions.
Methods: We conducted semistructured qualitative interviews with 18 researchers who had experience either designing (but not coding) digital behavioral interventions or running research studies with them. Participants were a convenience sample of users of the Computerized Intervention Authoring System platform, an existing no-code development platform for building digital intervention content, and were recruited through either direct email solicitation or snowball sampling. All interviews were conducted and recorded over videoconference between February and April 2020. Recordings from interviews were transcribed and thematically analyzed by multiple coders.
Results: Interviews were completed with 18 participants and lasted between 24 and 65 (mean 46.9, SD 11.3) minutes. Interviewees were predominantly female (17/18, 94%) and represented different job roles, ranging from researcher to project/study staff. Three key barriers in the development of digital behavior interventions were identified during interviews: lack of cross-disciplinary understanding; variability in recipients’ technology access, infrastructure, and literacy; and the idea that evidence-based in-person interactions do not translate directly to digital interactions. Interviewees identified several key considerations that interventionists learned to prioritize, which have the potential to overcome these barriers and lead to successful interventions.
Conclusions: Barriers in the development of digital behavioral interventions are often created by a lack of cross-disciplinary understanding, which can lead to difficulties conceptualizing interventions, unrealistic expectations in terms of cost, and confusion about the development process. Moreover, concerns about research study participant characteristics and access to technology, as well as the translation of in-person interventions to digital, are apparent. Appropriate training in how to work with software development teams may help future digital behavior intervention creators overcome these barriers and may lead to new, exciting innovations in this space.