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Studying Technology as a Motivator for Cancer Survivors to Exercise

Studying Technology as a Motivator for Cancer Survivors to Exercise

“Alexa, did I get enough exercise today?”

That’s the question researcher Ahmed Hassoon is encouraging cancer survivors to ask. He has designed and conducted a clinical trial that showed Amazon’s virtual voice assistant may help overweight cancer survivors increase their daily activity and ultimately reduce the chance of their cancer coming back. 

Hassoon is an epidemiologist researcher affiliated with the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, an academic bridge between the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Inspired by mounting evidence that being overweight increases the risk of cancer recurrence and his own research interest in artificial intelligence solutions to improving patient outcomes, Hassoon launched a study comparing three types of motivators—written material, text messages and voice assistance technology, like Alexa—to see which was the best motivational tool to support weight loss.

The study participants were divided into three groups: Coachtext, MyCoach and a control group. The Coachtext group received remote coaching via personalized text messages directly to their cellphones. The MyCoach group used Alexa, a conversational, voice-controlled artificial intelligent personal assistant delivered via a home “smart” speaker. MyCoach can perform a variety of functions, such as offering feedback to the user, assisting in formulating habits, providing reminders and alarms, and offering health tips. The control group received written materials about the benefits of physical activity and were simply advised to increase their physical activity to 10,000 steps per day.

“By the time we finished the trial, I probably had about 75 percent of the study participants pretty enthusiastic about using Alexa and 25 percent who were a little wary but willing to give it a try,” says Yasmin Baig, research coordinator for the study.

As voice-assisted and other emerging technologies become an increasingly integral part of people’s daily lives, Hassoon believes their application in translational research will also expand.  

Read the full story in Kimmel in the Community: Technology Encourages Cancer Survivors to Exercise.

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