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THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTION RESEARCH: ADVANTAGES AND CHALLENGES

RONALD W. BERKOWSKY AND SARA J. CZAJA

BITs not only provide new delivery media for mental health treatments, they also open the possibility for entirely new interventions.

—Mohr, Burns, Schueller, Clarker, and Klinkman (2013)

In a broad sense, technology refers to tools and machines that are used to perform real-world activities (e.g., communication technologies). Technology can be simple (e.g., hand tool), complex (e.g., computer), or “virtual” (e.g., software applications; Brian, 2009). Technology is ubiquitous within our society and has changed the way we learn, work, shop, interact, and communicate. The use of technology is also prevalent within the health care arena and increasingly being used for health care delivery and services. With this rapid growth in both the popularity and prevalence of technologies and the increased capabilities of technology, behavioral intervention researchers have also been incorporating various technology devices and applications into their research protocols. Technology is being used as a vehicle to deliver interventions, as a data collection tool, and to aid data analysis.

The use of technology in behavioral intervention research as a mechanism for treatment delivery holds promise. For example, technology-based interventions have proven to be both feasible and efficacious for a broad range of populations such as caregivers (e.g., Czaja, Loewenstein, Schulz, Nair, & Perdomo, 2013), older adults (e.g., Irvine, Gelatt, Seeley, Macfarlane, & Gau, 2013), and a variety of patient populations such as those with cancer (e.g., Borosund, Cvancarova, Moore, Ekstedt, & Ruland, 2014; Freeman et al., 2014), diabetes (e.g., Piette et al., 2000), hypertension (e.g., Friedman et al., 1996), and depression (e.g., Mohr et al., 2005). The results of these studies also generally indicate that technology-based interventions are feasible and acceptable to target populations.

Technologies also afford behavioral intervention researchers unprecedented capabilities in data collection. For example, there is a plethora of monitoring technologies that can be used to monitor health indices and behavioral patterns and more are on the horizon. Technology applications are also impacting the way we store and analyze data. Overall, the intersection of technology developments and behavioral intervention research is exciting and holds great potential; however, it is not without challenges. The focus of this chapter is to explore the role of technology in behavioral intervention research. We discuss the application of technology to intervention delivery and the role of technology in data collection and provide examples of technology applications within each of these areas. We also discuss some of the advantages and challenges associated with technology-based approaches and highlight issues that warrant further investigation. As this field is broad and characterized by rapid change, and because there is a broad range of available technologies, we provide only a sample of examples of technology applications. Our intent is to illustrate how technology is emerging as an important component of behavioral intervention research.

 
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