An eHealth tool for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that includes support for self-management of physical activity and exercise training may be a valuable digital complement to current resources, researchers reported in BMC Pulmonary Medicine.
Use of an eHealth tool offers a potential solution to the problem of limited access to pulmonary rehabilitation for patients with COPD. Researchers therefore sought to explore the preferences of patients with COPD with respect to an eHealth tool to support them in managing physical activity and exercise training.
Conducted in Sweden, the study used a qualitative research design in which study participants representative of potential end-users of an eHealth tool attended a series of 6 digital workshops. The 17 study participants (11 women) included 10 participants with COPD (mean [SD] age, 71.1 [10.8] years), 2 relatives, 4 health care providers with experience in pulmonary rehabilitation, and 1 patient organization representative.
The 6 digital workshops were held 2 to 4 weeks apart, each lasting 1.5 to 2 hours. The topics were: (1) introduction of methods and objectives and presentation of participants; (2) important components of pulmonary rehabilitation; (3) preferences regarding the design and content of the eHealth tool; (4) physical activity and exercise training in the eHealth tool; (5) support and motivation for behavior change; and (6) the COPD team, prototype, and conclusion. The workshops involved prerecorded films, digital lectures, and home assignments.
The findings in this study could contribute to the future development of novel eHealth tools being more focused on user-friendliness and being adapted to the actual needs expressed by the prospective users.
Qualitative content analysis of the participants’ preferences led to 1 overarching theme comprising 3 categories and 10 subcategories. The overarching theme was “Fusing with, rather than replacing existing support structures” and was identified from the combination of positive expectations toward digital solutions and the fear of losing access to established rehabilitation systems. The 3 main categories related to this theme were: (1) a requirement for information on evidence-based practice; (2) a need for a well-designed eHealth tool that was highly adaptable to individual users; and (3) a desire for continuous follow-up and support from health care providers, peers, and significant others.
The participants said the eHealth tool should include a broad and robust platform of evidence-based information about COPD that could help them to both increase their use of self-management strategies and gain knowledge. They expressed the desire for knowledge of when to increase or decrease the exercise training intensity and on differences between strength training, endurance training, and interval training.
The participants also had concerns about the eHealth tool potentially not being used if the tool’s technical aspects were too advanced or if the exercise training required advanced gym equipment. The ability to easily communicate with others (including health care providers, peers, relatives, a training partner, or a personal trainer) when using the eHealth tool and to easily navigate were regarded as important aspects.
In addition, participants expressed a need for support provided in many ways from individuals with various roles and different areas of competence. Also important for participants was maintaining close, frequent, and regular follow-ups with their assigned health care provider while using the eHealth tool.
Study limitations include the study’s qualitative design and the potential for bias inherent in the design and the study’s small sample size.
“The challenges raised in the study were mainly regarding safe documentation, transmission, and storage of the personal data and the health care providers’ limited resources,” said study authors. “The findings in this study could contribute to the future development of novel eHealth tools being more focused on user-friendliness and being adapted to the actual needs expressed by the prospective users,” the researchers added.