Background Social interaction crucially impacts health-related behaviors not only in the context of the physical world but also when using a health IT service. In each temporal phase of before, during, and after health-related behaviors, different social interactions are needed. Therefore, wayto provide appropriate social interactions in each phase should be explored, and such interactions should be systematically framed to induce effective health behavior changes among the users of health IT services. As an explanation of how to apply different social interactions for diverse people according to the temporal phase, this study suggests a design principle of social interactions for each temporal phase of health-related behaviors when using health IT services based on survey and user interview data.
Methods First, an online survey was conducted to ask users about the features of current health IT services that support their social interactions in each temporal phase. Second, user interviews were conducted to understand what users experience and what they need from their social interactions in current health IT services.
Results We found that current health IT services do not support proper social interactions in the before, during, and after phases. Triggers are needed to promote action in the before phase, and a balance between social and individual features is needed to focus on health-related behaviors in the during phase. Sharing pride in their small achievements was important for users in the after phase. Based on these insights, we extracted design principles for the social interaction quality of health IT services throughout the user journey. In the before phase, providing careful and sequential warm-up features is important; in the during phase, utilizing agents as mediators can be a good design principle; and in the after phase, taking advantage of the effect of social reinforcement benefits the users by supporting rich social interaction.
Conclusions Addressing the temporal dimension of health behaviors is a pervasive strategy in health IT services, yet it has not been extensively researched in the context of social interaction. The type and quality of social interactions between users and mediators vary according to the temporal phase. The diverse features of social interactions along the user journey through a health IT service are crucial driving factors of user experience because these features interact with, influence, and synergize with each other to support health behavior changes.