A situated digital platform for learning new health habits.

Development of a health platform to help manage stress, social isolation and other behavioural conditions. SITUATE is a University of Glasgow research group creating an application that could help users develop healthier habits.

Professor Lawrence Barsalou and Dr Christoph Scheepers from the Methods Centre in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience (MVLS) are developing SITUATE, an innovative digital health platform. This novel precision medicine resource aims to help individuals cope with a variety of health and social behaviours, with the goal of developing healthier habits. SITUATE contains features that render it a unique, transformational clinical tool. Its adaptable core architecture enables it to be tailored to different target conditions, such as stress, social isolation, trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), and sustainable behaviour, all easily achieved by developing new content and incorporating it into the platform.  Once fully developed, SITUATE will offer a scalable online tool that can help treating individuals who do not require resource-intensive in-person treatment, or who only require minimal supervision. This will be a significant contribution to healthcare systems, as it can potentially reduce the workload of health care professionals, reduce treatment costs and provide an easier, personalised approach to healthcare. Furthermore, SITUATE has the extra potential to be used in peer-support networks, where individuals trained in its implementation deliver health interventions to other community members.

From early on during its development stages, SITUATE has been eagerly supported by the Research and Innovation Services at the University of Glasgow. It has also received support from the UK-wide ARC Accelerator Programme, which contributed to its development into a social impact project with great potential for commercialisation. The University’s Translational Research Initiative has provided further support and funding, including a Wellcome Early Concept Development (ECD) Award, that resulted in the successful development of a SITUATE prototype and supported its evaluation in focus groups of end users, researchers, and health workers. The development of the platform has also been supported by additional funding, received from the Knowledge Exchange Program run by the University of Glasgow.

SITUATE’S design allows for the combination of assessment, instruction, intervention, and monitoring in a single healthcare platform. The course of treatment offered by SITUATE features an initial assessment of the user, allowing them to explore their motivation to work on a problematic health behaviour (e.g., stress, compulsive hair pulling), learn about scientifically established processes that influence their behaviour, and develop evidence-based skills to form new, healthier habits. Finally, SITUATE identifies and targets the specific situations in an indivdual’s life where the behaviour of interest occurs, resulting in the delivery of a unique, personalised treatment that fits the needs of each individual user. Following course completion, SITUATE provides a support app that allows users to continually receive on-demand support according to their future needs., resulting in the delivery of a unique, personalised treatment that is tailored to each individual user.

During the past five years, the team behind SITUATE have developed the assessment component of the app, initially targeting stress and trichotillomania. Currently, the team are incorporating additional components for instruction, training, monitoring functions, and support beyond the assessment component. In the future, the team aspire to include content in the domains of social isolation, sustainable behaviour, and climate change anxiety.

The initial SITUATE prototype is due to be completed in the summer of 2022 and tested in focus groups for stress and compulsive hair pulling. Following the proof of positive outcomes, the team will seek further funding in order to refine the platform based on the received feedback from the focus groups, add additional features, and render the SITUATE app compatible for a variety of devices. The team envisage that, ultimately, SITUATE will become an easy to access, commercially available tool that can be distributed to individual users, communities, and organisations, providing an affordable, accessible solution for a variety of behavioural applications. 

Partnership Funding

From its initial concept development and preliminary data evaluation, starting in 2020, the team behind SITUATE received a GKE award, followed by ECD and Wellcome TPA awards in 2021. Their further development and evaluation of the SITUATE digital health platform prototype was supported by the TRI software regulation champion in 2022.