Personalized and community supported health education

How to teach a billion people to self-treat their illnesses

Tarmo Toikkanen
Aug 8, 2016 · 5 min read

With the rise of many chronic diseases, patient education in self-management of their condition is ever more important. Lapses in self-management are caused either by perceived difficulties in following the procedure, or in maintaining motivation to follow the procedures daily. Personalized learning paths, motivational engagement techniques, and social support are proven ways of mitigating these problems. These ways are also core features in LifeLearn.

Personalized Learning Paths

Combining group lectures with individual tutoring, remote monitoring and real-time support has been shown to decrease hospital visits and increase overall health.[1] Combining a psychoeducational programme with case management has been shown to be effective in self-treatment of diabetes.[5]

Technology is a tool to increase personalization. Instead of patients attending a group lecture, they can e.g. view and review instructional videos and assess their own understanding. Educating patients online (telemedicine) has been shown to be a viable alternative to face-to-face education.[2] The best approach may be a combination of personalized coaching with more generic training materials.[4]


The question then becomes, how to maintain motivation in widely differing patient populations? While educational materials will of course contain motivational portions, keeping patients motivated permanently on often inconvenient and dull treatment procedures is not an easy challenge.

Certainly the day-to-day activities can be designed to be more motivating. Research into engagement design or gamification provides numerous techniques to increase motivation, and these should be used more in designing the self-treatment programmes people are expected to follow. One aspect that is already well exploited is the effect of peer support and social pressure.

Most self-treatment programs include self-monitoring and reporting. In the case of diabetes, patients measure their own blood sugar levels and record them somewhere. These records are usually only seen by very few people and feedback to the patient usually comes after a considerable delay. These self-monitoring tasks can be made more motivating with simple gamification techniques, and peer support can also be leveraged; even if the exact data is not shared, family members may see whether or not a measurement has been made, and can remind the patient; and if the data can be seen, a discussion on possible interesting changes can be had.

We will discuss both gamification and permanent habit change in future articles.

Rollout: Top-down and Bottom-up

This snowballing method of growing the pool or teachers and tutors is a scalable solution. However, to have lasting results, support is needed in local communities. Educating family members on self-management is an effective way to make sure the patient understands what they need to do and why, and also to keep the patient following the plan.[1]

Getting family members, relatives, friends, and the local community involved in the self-management of a patient serves two reasons: it provides social support in case of difficulties in following the plan, and it provides social pressure (peer pressure) to continue with the treatment plan. Having something become an important issue in a local community also changes social norms and helps turn previously stigmatising conditions into understood illnesses, whose treatment is in everyone’s best interest.



2. Izquierdo, R. E., Knudson, P. E., Meyer, S., Kearns, J., Ploutz-Snyder, R., & Weinstock, R. S. (2003). A comparison of diabetes education administered through telemedicine versus in person. Diabetes Care, 26(4), 1002–7.

3. Amoah, A. G. ., Owusu, S. ., Acheampong, J. et al. (2000). A national diabetes care and education programme: the Ghana model. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 49(2), 149–157.

4. Gucciardi, E., DeMelo, M., Lee, R. N., & Grace, S. L. (2007). Assessment of two culturally competent Diabetes education methods: Individual versus Individual plus Group education in Canadian Portuguese adults with Type 2 Diabetes. Ethnicity & Health, 12(2), 163–187.

5. Svoren BM, Butler D, Levine BS, Anderson BJ, Laffel LM: Reducing acute adverse outcomes in youths with type 1 diabetes: a randomized, controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2003, 112: 914–922.

6. Christie, D., Strange, V., Allen, E., et al. (2009). Maximising engagement, motivation and long term change in a Structured Intensive Education Programme in Diabetes for children, young people and their families: Child and Adolescent Structured Competencies Approach to Diabetes Education (CASCADE). BMC Pediatrics, 9(1), 57.

About the Author


Sharing Economy of Skills


Sharing Economy of Skills

Tarmo Toikkanen

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Learning Designer, Educational Psychologist, Author, Teacher Trainer


Sharing Economy of Skills