As a health psychologist, I am very excited by the opportunities the internet provides to help people to self-manage all sorts of health problems – but as a researcher I found it frustrating to have to commission programmers every time I wanted to create online support for a new health problem.
In 2008 I secured funding from the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) to create LifeGuide: software resources that allow people with no programming background to create interactive websites to support health. This was followed by the UBhave project (funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, EPSRC), which developed resources for creating mobile phone apps to provide just-in-time advice.
The LifeGuide software is open source and is now used by an international community of over 2,000 people, developing all sorts of e-health resources.
The LifeGuide team has attracted funding of over £25 million from the Medical Research Council (MRC), National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and medical charities. This has helped develop and evaluate interactive websites and apps for health promotion – such as supporting weight management, physical activity, and stopping smoking – and to help people self-manage health problems including diabetes, back pain, flu, high blood pressure, cancer, asthma, dizziness and many more.
We work very closely with users to make sure our websites are engaging and easy to use for everyone, and have been able to show that LifeGuide resources really impact on health. For example, our interactive website to promote hand-washing is the first e-health resource worldwide to have proven potential to reduce the impact of an international flu pandemic (see our 2015 paper in the Lancet).
With 2/3 of adults now overweight, leading to health problems that cost the NHS over £5 billion in 2015, our weight management intervention POWeR has already been used successfully by GPs and public health teams across the UK, and is currently being considered by NHS Choices and Public Health England for national use.
Scott Lloyd, Health Improvement Commissioning Lead for Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, who has already rolled out LifeGuide resources in his region, commented:
“The potential impact of LifeGuide e-health resources is massive; even if you just consider POWeR, it should definitely be offered as one of the options for weight management.
“Online isn’t for everyone, but if it can work for a section of the population then we can save valuable face-to-face services and interventions for those that need them the most.”
Lucy Yardley is Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Southampton and Director of the Centre for Applications of Health Psychology (CAHP). Some of her recent work has been exploring how the internet can help people with health problems.