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Designing the Optimal Digital Health Intervention for Patients' Use Before and After Elective Orthopedic Surgery: Qualitative Study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Anna Robinson-BarellaORCiD, Bob Slight, Professor Andy HusbandORCiD, Professor Sarah SlightORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


©Anna Robinson, Robert D Slight, Andrew K Husband, Sarah P Slight. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (, 08.03.2021.BACKGROUND: Health behavior changes made by patients during the perioperative period can impact the outcomes and success of elective surgeries. However, there remains a limited understanding of how best to support patients during this time, particularly through the use of digital health interventions. Recognizing and understanding the potential unmet needs of elective orthopedic surgery patients is central to motivating healthier behavior change, improving recovery, and optimizing overall surgical success in the short and long term. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study is to explore patient perspectives on technology features that would help support them to change their lifestyle behaviors during the pre- and postoperative periods, and that could potentially maintain long-term healthy lifestyles following recovery. METHODS: Semistructured interviews with pre- and postoperative elective orthopedic patients were conducted between May and June 2020 using telephone and video call-based software. Patient perspectives on the use of digital technologies to complement current surgical care and support with lifestyle behavior changes were discussed. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Reflexive thematic analysis enabled the development of themes from the data, with QSR NVivo software (version 12) facilitating data management. Ethical approval was obtained from the National Health Service Health Research Authority. RESULTS: A total of 18 participants were interviewed. Four themes were developed from the data regarding the design and functionality of digital technologies to best support the perioperative journey. These center around an intervention's ability to incorporate interactive, user-centered features; direct a descriptive and structured recovery; enable customizable, patient-controlled settings; and deliver both general and specific surgical advice in a timely manner. Interventions that are initiated preoperatively and continued postoperatively were perceived as beneficial. Interventions designed with personalized milestones were found to better guide patients through a structured recovery. Individualized tailoring of preparatory and recovery information was desired by patients with previously high levels of physical activity before surgery. The use of personalized progression-based exercises further encouraged physical recovery; game-like rewards and incentives were regarded as motivational for making and sustaining health behavior change. In-built video calling and messaging features offered connectivity with peers and clinicians for supported care delivery. CONCLUSIONS: Specific intervention design and functionality features can provide better, structured support for elective orthopedic patients across the entire surgical journey and beyond. This study provides much-needed evidence relating to the optimal design and timing of digital interventions for elective orthopedic surgical patients. Findings from this study suggest a desire for personalized perioperative care, in turn, supporting patients to make health behavior changes to optimize surgical success. These findings should be used to influence future co-design projects to enable the design and implementation of patient-focused, tailored, and targeted digital health technologies within modern health care settings.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Robinson A, Slight RD, Husband AK, Slight SP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Medical Internet Research

Year: 2021

Volume: 23

Issue: 3

Online publication date: 08/03/2021

Acceptance date: 26/01/2021

Date deposited: 06/04/2021

ISSN (print): 1439-4456

ISSN (electronic): 1438-8871

Publisher: JMIR Publications, Inc.


DOI: 10.2196/25885

PubMed id: 33683208


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