MARCH 24, BOSTON, MA -- Partners HealthCare has been awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the development of a novel 'Engagement Engine' to support the sustained use of health and activity trackers and engagement in physical activity, in order to improve health outcomes in the general population.

Personal health technologies are widely available and have proven to increase physical activity. Yet they are not broadly used,  or users discontinue them after a short period. Helping consumers overcome barriers to using personal health technologies and successfully incorporate trackers in their day-to-day lives could help improve the health of a large segment of the population.

“As an organization that is taking risk on a large proportion of its patients and moving towards value-based reimbursement, better understanding preventative care is extremely important,” said Kamal Jethwani, MD, MPH, Senior Director of Connected Health Innovation at Partners HealthCare, and Principal Investigator on this project. “Our patients are also consumers, and this engagement tool will allow us to interact with them in a new way, helping prevent the onset of chronic disease by enabling them to adopt healthy lifestyles.”

Researchers at Partners HealthCare will begin by developing and testing an algorithm for identifying, purchasing and using a physical activity tracker, and then establishing and sustaining a personalized physical activity plan.  The Engagement Engine will leverage machine learning and other big data analytic tools to convert insights from users into targeted feedback. Once the engine is developed, a diverse, representative sampling of adults between the ages of 18 and 65, with BMI (body mass index) in the overweight to mildly obese category (BMI= 25-35), will be recruited to participate in a study to validate it empirically. The Engagement Engine will be available online through Wellocracy, which was created by Partners to educate and empower individuals to use activity trackers, wearable sensors and mobile apps to improve health and wellness.

“To build a Culture of Health we will need tools that help people—no matter who they are or where they live—lead healthier lives. Wearable sensors and tracking devices have the potential to help people exercise more, eat healthier and sleep better, and we need to learn more about how people engage with these devices to better understand how they can be maximized,” said Deborah Bae, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This project will explore ways to use these tools more effectively to increase and sustain physical activity over time.”

This is the first grant awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Partners HealthCare. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest philanthropy in the U.S. focused solely on health, with the goal of improving the health and health care of all Americans.

"Partners is honored to receive this generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to enhance our knowledge and ability to increase the appropriate use of personal health devices and activity trackers in health consumers," added Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, Vice President, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare. "Personalization has been a central theme in our work. This grant allows us to significantly expand our capabilities in data analytics geared towards smart segmentation and personalization.”

Health and activity trackers, including wearable sensors and mobile apps have a proven, beneficial impact on a number of major health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.