Persuading Patients Through Computers: Exploring Captology in Healthcare

flickr: jonny goldstein

Have you ever been driving and come upon a large digital sign that records and displays your speed? What happens? Well, if you’re like most people, you’ll slow up and make sure you are not exceeding the speed limit.

This is just one example of “captology” as explored in B.J. Fogg’s book, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. “Captology,” is Fogg’s term for computer as persuasive technologies, and it explores the area where computers and persuasion overlap.

Captology recognizes our ability to use persuasive techniques in tandem with computers to potentially change people’s behavior, having real practical ramification in our technology-driven world.

Fogg sees great potential for using captology in healthcare. In his book, he includes cases that demonstrate how it helped doctors empathize with cancer patients and helped patients to manage asthma.

Computers’ three functions

Fogg begins his explanation of captology by categorizing computers’ three functions:

1) Tools that can increase capabilities (i.e. making a targeted behavior easier, like medication reminders).

2) Media that can provide experiences (i.e. what can I expect my first day of chemotherapy?).

3) Social actors that can create relationships (i.e. providing online communities for support groups).

Fogg is optimistic about the potential for captology in healthcare. He writes, “Today you can find a large number of interactive systems designed to support health, but relatively few of these products actively motivate or persuade people to live healthier lives. We’re still in the early ages of using interactive technology for health.”

Although some persuasion using technology requires new products (like the speed tracking device I mentioned earlier), persuasion can be incorporated into everyday hospital processes, like online registration, selecting meals or encouraging new moms to breastfeed.

Nudge patients to healthier behavior

Small changes on hospital websites–like asking patients questions in a particular order or giving patients the ability to compare their behaviors with others–can help nudge patients to healthier behavior, encourage them to seek support and help form a stronger relationship between patients and the hospital community.

In Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, Fogg helps demystify captology, shares some interesting case studies and guides readers to practical solutions.  Although the examples are not all healthcare-related, it’s compelling food-for-thought and will start you re-thinking your hospital’s online interaction with patients.


How we help

Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop an effective social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process. Read about our services. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.

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