March 5, 2014
In control engineering, devices continually monitor the performance of a system and then operate to control that system. Common examples include automobile thermostats and autopilot systems on commercial airliners. These same principles can be used to design behavioral interventions that adapt over time to help patients alter behaviors that affect their health. Potential applications include maintaining an exercise regimen, maintaining a healthy diet, or abstaining from tobacco or illicit drug use.
In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Methodology Center Investigators Constantino Lagoa, Stephanie Lanza, Susan Murphy, and their colleague Korkut Bekiroglu describe this new approach to building adaptive, intensive interventions. The authors show how data, in this case simulated smoking-cessation data, can be used to inform the design of an adaptive, intensive intervention by applying control-engineering techniques. This intervention, which is designed to provide treatment only when needed, is shown to improve effectiveness while decreasing patient burden. This approach holds great promise for informing clinical decisions and for informing the development of smartphone-based adaptive interventions.