Personal connected health technologies, combined with automated coaching, are showing great promise in promoting patient accountability and adherence to care plans for a number of chronic conditions. In a randomized controlled trial using a ‘Virtual Coach’ or computer avatar, Partners HealthCare Connected Health measured the effect of personalized feedback and motivational coaching on adherence to an activity regimen, to increase activity levels in overweight or obese individuals. The research also assessed whether subjects formed a social bond and effective relationship with the Virtual Coach.
The Virtual Coach is a computer-animated advisor and simulated face-to-face conversation, including verbal and non-verbal communication, goal setting, positive reinforcement, problem solving, education and social interaction. Dialogue was tailored based on the participant’s progress, current status against their goals and interaction with the Virtual Coach.
In this study, the Virtual Coach delivered personalized feedback, based on physiological data gathered by a wireless activity monitor, to promote adherence to an exercise regime. Participants were asked to wear a wireless pedometer and given access to a website to view step counts. The intervention group also met with a Virtual Coach. Based on average step count, the intervention group walked approximately a half mile more than the control group (not meeting with a Virtual Coach) and their activity level remained steady over the course of the 12 week trial.
The avatar was developed by Tim Bickmore, PhD, Associate Professor, College of Computer and Information Science, Northeastern University.
Results of this trial were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research:
Watson A, Bickmore T, Cange A, Kulshreshtha A, Kvedar J. An internet-based virtual coach to promote physical activity adherence in overweight adults: randomized controlled trial. J Med Internet Res. 2012 Jan 26;14(1):e1. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1629. Access the paper here.