Marta Marques and other NMS researchers will participate in the evaluation of a web app for behavioral change.
The project is called “VA Prevention - Randomized Controlled Trial and Economic Evaluation of a Person-Centered Digital Intervention for Diabetes Prevention in High-Risk Adults”. The aim is to change behavior to the prevention of type 2 diabetes, through web app that will be based on a virtual human trainer. The app will help regulate the diet and physical exercise of users and share this information with health professionals.
The Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) financed this project, through the 2022 Research Project Call, with a total of almost 250 thousand euros. The effort is coordinated by Mara Guerreiro from Egas Moniz School of Health & Science, with participation of other institutions besides NMS: ESEL, ENSP NOVA, FC UL, FMH UL. At NMS, principal investigator Ana Rodrigues from the EpiDoc group and Lúcia Domingues from NOVA CRU are also part of the collaborators.
We spoke with researcher Marta Marques, who is Co-PI in the EpiDoc group of the CHRC research unit at NMS, to find out more about this project:
· What scientific questions will you pursue in the scope of this work?
This project, VAPrevention, will test if the use of automated virtual health coaches, to promote health behaviours that are crucial for type 2 diabetes prevention (e.g physical activity, dietary behaviours), is a valid approach for the Portuguese population, where these types of interventions are lacking. This will be done through a real-world hybrid clinical trial, through the involvement of pharmacies and primary health care settings in the recruitment of participants. These participants will be invited to use a web app as a digital diabetes prevention intervention, with the help of a virtual human coach. The societal impact of the project is enormous if shown to be effective and scaled up.
· What does this award mean to you/research team?
Researchers from NMS will coordinate a project task related with the hybrid trial, namely the implementation of the methodology and the qualitative and economic evaluation of the webapp, in collaboration with other CHRC researchers from ENSP and NOVA Cru. This award will promote the recruitment of new human resources to work in the field of digital health, and will foster collaboration between different units at NMS and between NOVA schools.
· What will this award change for your research? Does it open new doors/new possibilities?
The VAPrevention web app will target two core behaviours in type-2 diabetes prevention - diet and physical activity. It will be composed of a virtual coach , designed to simulate face-to- face behaviour change support. Patients will be given the choice to share the dashboard with health professionals and their network, such as relatives. This technology has an enormous potential for scaling and other applications in other health and community settings.
· How does it relate with SDGs?
This project will mainly contribute to the SDGs related with health and well-being and digital transformation. A key societal impact of this project is the capacity for the prevention of type 2 diabetes in high-risk adults, through an accessible, scalable, sustainable and easily integrated intervention.
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