The role of behavioral science in digital health

September 6, 2022 Peter Myler


"At S3 Connected Health, we use a behavioral science approach to make digital health solutions more effective.

Behavioral science is all about understanding people, and considering the multiple influences on behavior, such as cognitive, physical, contextual, and social factors. This means we take a holistic, evidence-based approach to behavior change, that looks at how people manage their health both inside and outside of healthcare settings.



We bring together expertise from health psychology and behavioral economics to work with our development teams, UX and UI professionals, analysts, data scientists, pharmacists, and others.  


Thanks to this multidisciplinary approach, we can design digital health solutions that effectively change patient behaviors and improve adoption." 



How do we use behavioral science in digital health?

"Once we've developed an understanding of the person’s experience we identify and prioritize their needs, and those of other stakeholders, such as clinicians or caregivers. These needs are then translated to target behaviors, that ensure the desired business outcomes are achieved.

changing behaviors S3 Connected Health

We use behavioral models to determine the techniques best suited to address these behaviors and identify the influencing barriers, and enablers.


Using these techniques, we work with our interdisciplinary teams to design a solution. The solution can include things like interactive tools and exercises or use specific phrasing to motivate the user.


Behavioral science shows us that even minor changes make a big difference. 


Identifying people’s needs is a crucial first step when developing a digital health solution; it’s the foundation on which everything else is built. This involves two stages:  

  1. A robust evidence-gathering stage involving primary and secondary research
  2. Creating a detailed journey map to understand how people live with their conditions and engage with treatment.

Gathering evidence and drawing on our research, we map people’s real-life experience to gain a thorough understanding of user behaviors, and the problem to be addressed.


One common example is m
edication non-adherence. Many people don’t take their medication as prescribed due to a lack of social support, depression, anxiety, or their beliefs and motivations. So, the reason someone does not take their medication is more complex than simply forgetting. 


By understanding the real barriers in a person’s life, we can design solutions that will actually change people’s behavior to improve their health.  


Behavioral science models like COM-B, developed by Michie and colleagues in 2013, allow us to understand people’s behavior in a systematic and theory-driven way. It’s a comprehensive framework for understanding barriers and enablers to behavior change. 


For any behavior to occur, we must examine whether the person has the capability, the opportunity, and/or the motivation to do it.  



  • A person must have the capability to engage in a behavior. This includes both physical and psychological capability. 
  • A person needs to have enough motivation. This includes reflective processes, such as planning and thinking, and automatic processes involving our feelings, habits, and instincts.
  • A person must have the opportunity to engage in a behavior. Their environment must be physically and financially accessible, they must have ample time for the behavior, and it must be deemed socially acceptable.

COM-B factors S3 Connected Health

The COM-B factors are interrelated. Capability and opportunity can influence motivation, and the behavior itself can then influence capability, opportunity, and motivation."


Putting this to use in a real-world setting

"So how do we apply this to a real-world product or service? We design a solution that uses behavioral change strategies to target specific needs at specific times, based on user data. Since patients have different needs at different stages of their treatment journey, a good solution must be personalized and adapt in real-time. 


We improve and evolve the solution over its lifecycle, to always give people the right support, at the right time, in an engaging way."



Read more on how we use behavioral science in digital health strategy and our end-to-end process.