Usability and Acceptability of an App (SELFBACK) to Support Self-Management of Low Back Pain: Mixed Methods Study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonJMIR Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies. 2020, 7 (2), 10.2196/18729
Background: Self-management is the key recommendation for managing nonspecific low back pain (LBP). However, there are well-documented barriers to self-management; therefore, methods of facilitating adherence are required. Smartphone apps are increasingly being used to support self-management of long-term conditions such as LBP. Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the usability and acceptability of the SELFBACK smartphone app, designed to support and facilitate self-management of non-specific LBP. The app provides weekly self-management plans, comprising physical activity, strength and flexibility exercises, and patient education. The plans are tailored to the patient’s characteristics and symptom progress by using case-based reasoning methodology. Methods: The study was carried out in 2 stages using a mixed-methods approach. All participants undertook surveys, and semistructured telephone interviews were conducted with a subgroup of participants. Stage 1 assessed an app version with only the physical activity component and a web questionnaire that collects information necessary for tailoring the self-management plans. The physical activity component included monitoring of steps recorded by a wristband, goal setting, and a scheme for sending personalized, timely, and motivational notifications to the user’s smartphone. Findings from Stage 1 were used to refine the app and inform further development. Stage 2 investigated an app version that incorporated 3 self-management components (physical activity, exercises, and education). A total of 16 participants (age range 23-71 years) with ongoing or chronic nonspecific LBP were included in Stage 1, and 11 participants (age range 32-56 years) were included in Stage 2. Results: In Stage 1, 15 of 16 participants reported that the baseline questionnaire was easy to answer, and 84% (13/16) found the completion time to be acceptable. Overall, participants were positive about the usability of the physical activity component but only 31% (5/16) found the app functions to be well integrated. Of the participants, 90% (14/16) were satisfied with the notifications, and they were perceived as being personalized (12/16, 80%). In Stage 2, all participants reported that the web questionnaire was easy to answer and the completion time acceptable. The physical activity and exercise components were rated useful by 80% (8/10), while 60% (6/10) rated the educational component useful. Overall, participants were satisfied with the usability of the app; however, only 50% (5/10) found the functions to be well integrated, and 20% (2/10) found them to be inconsistent. Overall, 80% (8/10) of participants reported it to be useful for self-management. The interviews largely reinforced the survey findings in both stages. Conclusions: This study has demonstrated that participants considered the SELFBACK app to be acceptable and usable and that they thought it would be useful for supporting self-management of LBP. However, we identified some limitations and suggestions useful to guide further development of the SELFBACK app and other mobile health interventions.