Changing health behaviors, such as smoking, unhealthy eating, inactivity, and alcohol abuse, may have a greater impact on population health than any curative strategy. One of the suggested strategies is the use of behavioral intervention technologies (BITs). They open up new opportunities in the area of prevention and therapy and have begun to show benefits in the durable change of health behaviors in patients or those at risk. A consensual and international paradigm was adopted by health authorities for drugs 50 years ago. It guides their development from research units to their authorization and surveillance. BITs’ generalization brings into question their upstream evaluation before being placed on the market and their downstream monitoring once on the market; this is especially the case in view of the marketing information provided by manufacturers and the scarcity and methodological limits of scientific studies on these tools.
This study aims to identify and categorize the frameworks for the validation and monitoring of BITs proposed in the literature.
We conducted a narrative literature review using MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Web of Science. The review items included the following: name, publication year, name of the creator (ie, first author), country, funding organization, health focus, target group, and design (ie, linear, iterative, evolutive, and/or concurrent). The frameworks were then categorized based on (1) translational research thanks to a continuum of steps and (2) the three paradigms that may have inspired the frameworks: biomedical, engineering, and/or behavioral.
We identified 46 frameworks besides the classic US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) five-phase drug development model. A total of 57% (26/46) of frameworks were created in the 2010s and 61% (28/46) involved the final user in an early and systematic way. A total of 4% (2/46) of frameworks had a linear-only sequence of their phases, 37% (17/46) had a linear and iterative structure, 33% (15/46) added an evolutive structure, and 24% (11/46) were associated with a parallel process. Only 12 out of 46 (26%) frameworks covered the continuum of steps and 12 (26%) relied on the three paradigms.
To date, 46 frameworks of BIT validation and surveillance coexist, besides the classic FDA five-phase drug development model, without the predominance of one of them or convergence in a consensual model. Their number has increased exponentially in the last three decades. Three dangerous scenarios are possible: (1) anarchic continuous development of BITs that depend on companies amalgamating health benefits and usability (ie, user experience, data security, and ergonomics) and limiting implementation to several countries; (2) the movement toward the type of framework for drug evaluation centered on establishing its effectiveness before marketing authorization to guarantee its safety for users, which is heavy and costly; and (3) the implementation of a framework reliant on big data analysis based on a posteriori research and an autoregulation of a market, but that does not address the safety risk for the health user, as the market will not regulate safety or efficacy issues. This paper recommends convergence toward an international validation and surveillance framework based on the specificities of BITs, not equivalent to medical devices, to guarantee their effectiveness and safety for users.