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Design Considerations for Smoking Cessation Apps: Feedback from Nicotine Dependence Treatment Providers and Smokers

1. What was the motivation behind your study?

Hundreds of smoking cessation apps are commercially available, but most are not theoretically-based or designed to take advantage of mobile technology in ways that could make them more engaging and possibly more effective. Considering input from both clinical experts (who understand best practice nicotine dependence treatment requirements) to inform appropriate content and from smokers (the end users) to inform their preferences is important in designing these programs in the future.

2. Describe your study.

We surveyed smoking treatment providers (n=264) and smokers who own smartphones (n=40) to assess their opinions and perceived importance of 21 app design features. Features represented 5 domains: cost, reputation, privacy and security, content and user experience, and communication. Each was chosen to reflect best practice treatment, ways to leverage mobile technology to support quitting smoking, or other important user preferences.

3. What were the results of the study?

Each group rated the following as ‘very’ to ‘extremely’ important: app is free/low cost, keeps information private, content matches users’ needs and interests, content adaptively changes as users’ needs and interests change, helps with managing nicotine withdrawal and medication side-effects, and allows users to track their progress. Groups had significantly different opinions about the importance of other features. In particular, providers rated privacy as most important, whereas smokers rated the ability to adaptively tailor content and low cost as the most important features.

4. What is the main point that readers should take away from this study?

Smoking cessation apps hold great promise as intervention tools, but only if they are designed to be engaging to users and to appropriately treat nicotine dependence. Intervention development should take into consideration the perspectives of both treatment experts and smokers. This paper highlights important perspectives from each of these groups to be considered when designing future app-based smoking cessation programs.

5. What was the most surprising finding from your study?

Gaming and social media features were considered less important than other potential content and design features, despite the popularity of social media and gaming in popular culture.

6. What are the next steps? How do you envision this work ultimately translating into clinical practice or affecting R&D?

Our team will use these results to inform the development of future mHealth smoking cessation intervention programs. It is our hope that others interested in this area of treatment and research will do the same.

This Q&A was submitted by Dr. Jennifer McClure. Dr. McClure is Director of Research, Faculty & Development and Senior Investigator at the Group Health Research Institute; Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health; Affiliate Investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; and a licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. McClure’s research focuses the development and evaluation of nicotine dependence treatment programs with an emphasis on technology-based interventions (eHealth and mHealth interventions), population-level interventions, and motivational interventions for smoking cessation.