Behaviour change can refer to any transformation or modification of human behaviour. Within healthcare it refers to a broad range of activities and approaches that focus on the individual, community, or environmental influences on health-related behaviour. For e-Health (or digital health) it refers to behavioural impacts mediated through a specific e-Health intervention. However, there are also other health-related behaviour changes being quietly imposed upon both the populace and the healthcare professions broadly, by use of information and communications technologies for health.
To better understand these deliberate or incidental impacts on the behaviour of healthcare consumers and providers alike, a scoping narrative review was performed using peer-reviewed and grey literature resources. Qualitative information was charted from the selected literature. This created an objective analysis of both contemporary and less commonly appreciated aspects of behaviour change in our ‘digital’ age.
Many contemporary examples exist. The Internet and www brought alternate approaches moving from face-to-face or paper-based to websites, electronic diaries, and now mobile phones (particularly smartphones) to personalize health-related behaviour change in a myriad of diseases and conditions. Segments of the population have also exhibited health-related behaviour change through their growing www-based health-information seeking. More recent examples include ‘spontaneous telemedicine’ where physicians have changed the behaviour of themselves and colleagues through use of Instant Messaging, e.g., WhatsApp. Patients are also changing their behaviour spontaneously through taking and providing ‘medical selfies’. However, the recent and rapid growth in accessibility and popularity of social media has markedly impacted behaviour change through the speed with which information can be spread, by both legitimate users and socialbots. Insidious examples include spread of health-related ‘misinformation’ (e.g., vaginal cleansing,), and now ‘disinformation’ (e.g., the ‘anti-vaccination’ movement, now resulting in recurrence of once eradicated diseases).
These, and other examples, represent the broader, sometimes incidental, impact of some current e-health approaches on health-related behaviour change and should be identified and acknowledged as such. Doing so may fundamentally change opinion and efforts to redirect elements of behaviour change and aspects of behaviour change theory in unexpected ways.