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      Self-Guided Web-Based Interventions: Scoping Review on User Needs and the Potential of Embodied Conversational Agents to Address Them


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          Web-based mental health interventions have evolved from innovative prototypes to evidence-based and clinically applied solutions for mental diseases such as depression and anxiety. Open-access, self-guided types of these solutions hold the promise of reaching and treating a large population at a reasonable cost. However, a considerable factor that currently hinders the effectiveness of these self-guided Web-based interventions is the high level of nonadherence. The absence of a human caregiver apparently has a negative effect on user adherence. It is unknown to what extent this human support can be handed over to the technology of the intervention to mitigate this negative effect.


          The first objective of this paper was to explore what is known in literature about what support a user needs to stay motivated and engaged in an electronic health (eHealth) intervention that requires repeated use. The second objective was to explore the current potential of embodied conversational agents (ECAs) to provide this support.


          This study reviews and interprets the available literature on (1) support within eHealth interventions that require repeated use and (2) the potential of ECAs by means of a scoping review. The rationale for choosing a scoping review is that the subject is broad, diverse, and largely unexplored. Themes for (1) and (2) were proposed based on grounded theory and mapped on each other to find relationships.


          The results of the first part of this study suggest the presence of user needs that largely remain implicit and unaddressed. These support needs can be categorized as task-related support and emotion-related support. The results of the second part of this study suggest that ECAs are capable of engaging and motivating users of information technology applications in the domains of learning and behavioral change. Longitudinal studies must be conducted to determine under what circumstances ECAs can create and maintain a productive user relationship. Mapping the user needs on the ECAs’ capabilities suggests that different kinds of ECAs may provide different solutions for improving the adherence levels.


          Autonomous ECAs that do not respond to a user’s expressed emotion in real time but take on empathic roles may be sufficient to motivate users to some extent. It is unclear whether those types of ECAs are competent enough and create sufficient believability among users to address the user’s deeper needs for support and empathy. Responsive ECAs may offer a better solution. However, at present, most of these ECAs have difficulties to assess a user’s emotional state in real time during an open dialogue. By conducting future research with relationship theory–based ECAs, the added value of ECAs toward user needs can be better understood.

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          Most cited references 77

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          Persuasive System Design Does Matter: A Systematic Review of Adherence to Web-Based Interventions

          Background Although web-based interventions for promoting health and health-related behavior can be effective, poor adherence is a common issue that needs to be addressed. Technology as a means to communicate the content in web-based interventions has been neglected in research. Indeed, technology is often seen as a black-box, a mere tool that has no effect or value and serves only as a vehicle to deliver intervention content. In this paper we examine technology from a holistic perspective. We see it as a vital and inseparable aspect of web-based interventions to help explain and understand adherence. Objective This study aims to review the literature on web-based health interventions to investigate whether intervention characteristics and persuasive design affect adherence to a web-based intervention. Methods We conducted a systematic review of studies into web-based health interventions. Per intervention, intervention characteristics, persuasive technology elements and adherence were coded. We performed a multiple regression analysis to investigate whether these variables could predict adherence. Results We included 101 articles on 83 interventions. The typical web-based intervention is meant to be used once a week, is modular in set-up, is updated once a week, lasts for 10 weeks, includes interaction with the system and a counselor and peers on the web, includes some persuasive technology elements, and about 50% of the participants adhere to the intervention. Regarding persuasive technology, we see that primary task support elements are most commonly employed (mean 2.9 out of a possible 7.0). Dialogue support and social support are less commonly employed (mean 1.5 and 1.2 out of a possible 7.0, respectively). When comparing the interventions of the different health care areas, we find significant differences in intended usage (p = .004), setup (p < .001), updates (p < .001), frequency of interaction with a counselor (p < .001), the system (p = .003) and peers (p = .017), duration (F = 6.068, p = .004), adherence (F = 4.833, p = .010) and the number of primary task support elements (F = 5.631, p = .005). Our final regression model explained 55% of the variance in adherence. In this model, a RCT study as opposed to an observational study, increased interaction with a counselor, more frequent intended usage, more frequent updates and more extensive employment of dialogue support significantly predicted better adherence. Conclusions Using intervention characteristics and persuasive technology elements, a substantial amount of variance in adherence can be explained. Although there are differences between health care areas on intervention characteristics, health care area per se does not predict adherence. Rather, the differences in technology and interaction predict adherence. The results of this study can be used to make an informed decision about how to design a web-based intervention to which patients are more likely to adhere.
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            Machines and Mindlessness: Social Responses to Computers

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              Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research


                Author and article information

                J Med Internet Res
                J. Med. Internet Res
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
                November 2017
                16 November 2017
                : 19
                : 11
                [1] 1 Centre for eHealth & Wellbeing Research Department of Psychology, Health and Technology University of Twente Enschede Netherlands
                [2] 2 Optentia Research Focus Area North-West University Vanderbijlpark South Africa
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Mark R Scholten m.r.scholten@ 123456utwente.nl
                ©Mark R Scholten, Saskia M Kelders, Julia EWC Van Gemert-Pijnen. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 16.11.2017.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.



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