Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Spring 2018

Digital Pills and Artificial Intelligence; Where is the Behavior in Digital Health?

Margaret Schneider, PhD, Member Delegate and Heather Cole-Lewis, PhD, Digital Health Council (DHC) chair

In November of 2017, the FDA approved a digital pill; a medication that is embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine.  This technological strategy for addressing a behavioral issue—medication non-adherence—is but one example of the many innovative and, to some, controversial ways that the digital revolution is opening new horizons in health care.  Although these innovative approaches to health care offer fascinating new tools to address longstanding gaps in clinical care, they do not obviate the role of behavior as a key element influencing health.

Rather, these new technological approaches to promoting health and preventing disease introduce new behavioral challenges.  As critics of the digital pill have pointed out, providing a schizophrenic patient with a “smart” pill that allows the health care provider or a family member to track medication adherence may feed into the paranoia that often characterizes this condition, and therefore may have no benefit for medication adherence.

Many of our members have ventured into the digital health arena, using apps to promote behavior change, or wearable monitors to inform medical decision-making.  At the same time, many experts in informatics are designing systems to house digital health interventions.  Yet, all too often, these two fields of expertise fail to integrate their knowledge bases in such a way as to optimize the success of these innovations.  There is clearly a need for better communication between behavioral and information science experts.

Recently, the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) Board had a fantastic opportunity to facilitate cross-pollination between the fields of behavioral medicine and digital health technologies.  The SBM DHC, together with the SBM Scientific and Professional Liaison Council jointly proposed that the SBM Annual Meeting be linked with a 1.5-day meeting of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) and a panel session of the Working Group on Interactive Systems in Healthcare (WISH) in 2018.  The proposal was unanimously approved, and the workshop and panel have been scheduled to take place in New Orleans!

The mission of Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium is to catalyze the computing research community and enable the pursuit of innovative, high-impact research. CCC conducts activities that strengthen the research community, articulate compelling research visions, and align those visions with pressing national and global challenges. CCC communicates the importance of those visions to policymakers, government and industry stakeholders, the public, and the research community itself.

The CCC will sponsor a workshop titled "Sociotechnical Interventions for Health Disparity Reduction: A Research Agenda" before the SBM's 39th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions on Monday, April 9 and Tuesday, April 10, 2018 in New Orleans, LA. This cross-disciplinary workshop will bring together leading researchers in computing, health informatics, and behavioral medicine. The workshop aims to develop an integrative research agenda regarding sociotechnical interventions to reduce health disparities and improve the health of socio-economically disadvantaged populations.

Additionally, there will be a WISH panel session during the Annual Meeting hosted by the Digital Health Council and Scientific and Professional Liaison Council. WISH is collaboration between the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) and the Association of Computing Machinery’s (ACM) International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (ACM-CHI).  A full-day WISH meeting has historically alternated between the annual meetings of AMIA and ACM-CHI.  This year, members of the WISH community will attend the SBM Annual Meeting and hold a panel session to explore the possibility of future joint meetings, in rotation with AMIA and ACM-CHI. During this meeting, leaders from WISH will share information about the WISH community and annual workshops. Participants will discuss opportunities for collaboration and synergies that exist, given that researchers from both communities work to improve health outcomes using behavior science and technology. 

These cross-disciplinary collaborations are the type of initiatives that distinguish SBM among professional societies.  We hope that you, our members, will seize this opportunity to harness information technology for the enhancement of behavioral medicine.