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Published on 14.08.20 in Vol 22, No 8 (2020): August

Preprints (earlier versions) of this paper are available at http://preprints.jmir.org/preprint/19500, first published Apr 20, 2020.

This paper is in the following e-collection/theme issue:

    Original Paper

    Adherence of Female Health Care Workers to the Use a Web-Based Tool for Improving and Modifying Lifestyle: Prospective Target Group Pilot Study

    1Faculty of Medicine, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, Osijek, Croatia

    2Institute of Microbiology and Immunology, Ljubljana, Slovenia

    3Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

    4Faculty of Sport Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

    5Faculty of Health Sciences of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

    Corresponding Author:

    David Stubljar, BSc

    Institute of Microbiology and Immunology

    Ljubljana

    Slovenia

    Phone: 386 40842593

    Email: d.stubljar@gmail.com


    ABSTRACT

    Background: Health care professionals are exposed to the psychological and physiological effects of stress, which is a well-known risk factor for various mental and physical health problems.

    Objective: The aims of this study were to assess the adherence of female health care workers to use a web-based tool for improving and modifying lifestyle and to identify the potential factors influencing their adherence.

    Methods: A prospective, observational study was performed. A total of 80 female health care workers (physicians and gradated nurses) from 2 university medical centers and female members of a family medicine society participated. Participants completed a questionnaire that inquired about their basic demographic data and physical fitness. Physical fitness was assessed by the Rockport Fitness Walking Test. Adherence to a web-based application (24@life) was followed for 3 months and the number of log-ins into the application was counted.

    Results: The study was conducted from March to October 2019. Significantly high workload has been detected in all groups (P<.05), except in the general practitioner with normal workload group. The graduated nurse working in the surgery room group showed chronic stress with elevated S-cortisol levels (>690 nmol/L); activated cellular immune system with elevated concentrations of lymphocytes (reference 1.1-2.5 × 109 cells/L), CD3 cells (reference 0.7-1.9 × 109 cells/L), CD8 cells (reference 0.2-0.7 × 109 cells/L), and HLA-DR/CD3 cells (reference 0.04-0.2 × 109 cells/L); and the worst quality of sleep (mean 2.8 [SD 1.2]). Only 32 of 80 participants (40%) were adherent to the web-based application. Participants most frequently viewed web pages on areas of physical activity (497 times) and nutrition (332 times). No factors or participant’s characteristics such as weight (odds ratio [OR] 1.026, 95% CI 0.977-1.078), BMI (OR 0.993, 95% CI 0.834-1.184), age (OR 0.970, 95% CI 0.910-1.034), or stress level (OR 0.997, 95% CI 0.995-1.000) were identified to affect the adherence rates.

    Conclusions: Female health care workers exposed to high workload did not find the web-based application useful for improving and modifying their lifestyle. Therefore, other strategies that might help health care workers facing stress and improve their lifestyle should be identified.

    J Med Internet Res 2020;22(8):e19500

    doi:10.2196/19500

    KEYWORDS



    Introduction

    Occupational stress affects not only job satisfaction, but also personal and social life domains such as family, well-being, health, and friendships. Stress is a major health problem for both employees and employers, and can lead to illness or psychological distress, burnout, and labor turnover and absenteeism [1,2]. Work environments of health care professionals, especially those of nurses, have received increasing attention due to high absenteeism and staff shortages, augmented by dramatic cutbacks in funding and restructuring of health care services [3]. It was reported that 86% of nurses found their workplaces stressful and understaffed, 88% were under-resourced at work, and 91% experienced heavy workloads [4]. Healthy work environments are vital to the retention and recruitment of health care professionals and the sustainability of health systems [5]. Therefore, quality of work life (QWL) and the management of stress are extremely important for nurses [6].

    It is well recognized that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of morbidity and increase well-being and wellness. The key factors associated with this are healthy nutrition, exercise, and emotional well-being. Positive changes in lifestyle can have a wide range of health benefits, but ultimately change can only be implemented by the individual. Implementation of behavioral treatment and lifestyle management tools into the existing professional/health care system can ensure positive changes in lifestyle management. Many health care professionals describe lack of time and training as barriers to providing behavioral treatment. However, recent evidence suggests that intensive lifestyle interventions may not need to be performed in-person. Telephone- and internet-based treatment produced weight loss comparable to an in-person intervention [7]. Hybrid interventions that use technology and remote intervention components to the existing in-person treatment programs could prove even more effective. A promising way to promote physical activity and healthy diets worldwide is to implement interventions using electronic health (eHealth) and mobile health (mHealth) solutions. These interventions are primarily delivered via modern information and communication technologies such as the internet, mobile phones, and other wireless devices. In 2015, 90% of people owned a smartphone and various mobile apps are becoming part of our lives in every part of the world [7,8].

    It is crucial that administrators and health policy makers foster environments that appreciate the realities of health care practice and uniquely affect the quality of work environments for health care professionals. Effective health policy should incorporate health, social contexts of occupational stress, and its relationship to QWL. Focusing on occupational stress followed by stress management interventions and their implications for QWL, we need to evaluate workplace interventions associated with healthy work environments and QWL, targeting the management of occupational stress and burnout [6].

    As health care professionals are exposed to the psychological and physiological effects of stress, which is a well-known risk factor for a host of mental and physical health problems, the aims of this study were to assess the adherence of female health care workers to use a web-based tool for improving and modifying lifestyle and to identify the potential factors influencing their adherence.


    Methods

    Study Design

    The was a prospective, observational study. Baseline data, data about the psychological and physical fitness, satisfaction with life, data about workload in 1 week (7 consecutive days), and participant’s 3-month adherence to a web-based tool for improving lifestyle were collected from March to October 2019. The intervention included 2 major components: a mobile device that provided feedback/coaching about the diet and activity and web-based software which allows information entered via mobile phone to be visible and also tracked on the web-based platform when users log in to their personal account that monitored the progression of participant’s selected program.

    Settings and Participants

    Female health care workers (physicians and graduated nurses) from 2 university medical centers and female members of the Slovenian Family Medicine Society were selected as participants. All participants were invited individually. Selected participants were needed to fulfill all the eligible criteria based on a first come, first served basis.

    Inclusion criteria were female gender; working as an anesthesiologist, as a graduated nurse in an operating room, or as a family physician; and aged between 29 and 64 years. Exclusion criteria were pregnancy, physical conditions that prevent walking to a longer distance, unable to understand national language, and working only part time. Each participant signed an informed consent to participate in the study. Participants did not get any financial reimbursement for their participation. The study procedure was conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki and approved by the departmental committee.

    Blood was withdrawn from all participants in the morning. Immune status based on concentrations of immune cells from whole blood with EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) as anticoagulant was measured using flow cytometry. Serum samples were collected to measure serum levels of cortisol during the morning hours.

    Data Collection

    Data were collected between March and October 2019. Participants completed a questionnaire which collected the following data: basic demographics, satisfaction with life, and status of psychological fitness. Physical fitness was assessed using the Rockport test. Participants were then introduced to a web-based application/tool (24@life; RC IKTS). After registration to the application, a short training about the use of the application was provided. One week after the educational workshop, participants received a diary, on which they were needed to fill in data about their working hours, leisure time, and sleeping.

    The number of log-ins into the web-based application and type of instruction selected were detected by the web-based software automatically. Based on the number of log-ins into the web-based application, the participants were divided into two groups: (1) adherent group, which logged into the application at least once a week and (2) nonadherent group, which logged into the application on average less than once a week over the period of 3 months.

    Instruments and Definitions of the Variables

    Several instruments were used to assess the psychological and physical fitness, quality of sleep, and overall satisfaction with life.

    Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS)

    The satisfaction with life was measured by accessing global cognitive judgment of participants’ view of their life on a 5-item scale (Satisfaction With Life Scale or SWLS [9]). There is a 7-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree with a score range of 5–35. A score of 20 represents the neutral point on the scale. Scores between 31 and 35 indicate extremely satisfied, 26-30 indicate satisfied, 21-25 slightly satisfied, 15-19 slightly dissatisfied, 10-14 dissatisfied, and 5-9 indicate extremely dissatisfied. The scale has strong internal reliability and moderate temporal stability.

    State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-X)

    The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-X) measures anxiety as a stable personality trait, a persons’ disposition to be nervous, instead of the more prominent use of the term assessing an emotional state characterized by subjective feelings of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry, and by activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system [10,11]. Form X of the STAI contains 20 state anxiety items and 20 trait anxiety items. The state anxiety items are each rated on a 4-point intensity scale, from 1 for not at all to 4 for very much so. The trait anxiety items are rated on a 4-point frequency scale (from almost never to almost always). Respondents are asked to indicate how they generally feel. Scoring is reversed for anxiety-absent items (eg, “I feel calm”). STAI was developed as a unidimensional self-report measure; 10 items are positively worded, and 10 items are negatively worded. Score range is from 20 to 80, with higher scores indicating greater levels of anxiety.

    Sleep Quality

    This is the self-report measure, in which participants rate their sleep quality on the 5-stage Likert scale: 1 being very bad and 5 very good in either last month or last night. We asked participants about the quality of sleep for the night before, in the last 3 days, and in the last month.

    Physical Ability Test

    Each participant underwent an aerobic power testing at our first meeting. The Rockport Fitness Walking Test is a maximal paced 1-mile walk test used to evaluate cardiorespiratory fitness through the estimation or prediction of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) in adults [12]. This test requires the participant to walk 1 mile (1609 m) as fast as possible. We measured time needed and heart rate at the time the participants finished their walk. Oxygen consumption was calculated based on the formula for VO2max (Multimedia Appendix 1).

    Workload

    We assessed workload from the number of working hours in an observed week based on the self-reports from the participant’s diaries. Then, we interpolated the number of working hours in an observed week to a 4-week period (ie, 1 month). We defined the required number of hours per month as 160. Considering the Slovenian law, which states that health care workers should be included in out-of-hour’s service, we accepted higher number of working hours as standard for workload. The highest number of out of hours which does not need the explicit permission of the workers is 32. The highest acceptable level of working hours was assessed to be 192 hours per week, and more than 192 hours per week was assessed as high workload. According to the law, 4 subgroups have been defined: (1) 169 or less hours per month, (2) between 170 and 188 hours per month, (3) between 189 and 201 hours per month; and (4) more than 201 hours per month.

    Adherence

    Adherence to drug treatment is generally defined as the extent to which patients take medications as prescribed by their health care providers. Good adherence to drug treatment is defined as taking at least 80% of drugs as prescribed. We defined adherence based on the number of log-ins into the web-based application. Good adherence was defined as log-in(s) into a web-based application at least one a week on average, meaning more than 12 times throughout the observation period. We divided participants into 2 groups: the adherent group, which includes those who logged into the application at least once a week; and the nonadherent group, which includes those who logged into the application on average less than once a week.

    Statistical Analyses

    Data analyses were performed using SPSS version 21 (IBM). A descriptive data analysis was performed. Distribution of the variables was measured by the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test. Correlations between the dependent variables were performed by one-way analysis of variance, whereas for estimating qualitative correlations between variables a Pearson chi-square test was used. In case of abnormally distributed variables a Kruskal–Wallis test was performed. Logistic regression was used to predict the adherence to the web-based application. The level of significance was set to P<.05 for all the tests.


    Results

    The basic characteristics of all participants at the time of their enrollment into the study are presented in the Table 1. The participants were divided into 5 groups: (1) general practitioner with normal workload, (2) general practitioner with high workload, (3) anesthesiologist, (4) graduated nurse working with an anesthesiologist, and (5) graduated nurse working in the surgery room. The characteristics of participants did not differ significantly. A statistical difference in age was detected between the graduated nurse working in the surgery room and general practitioner with normal workload (P=.025) and between the graduated nurse working in the surgery room and general practitioner with high workload (P=.031). A high workload was detected in all groups, except in the general practitioner with normal workload group, which differed from other groups with a statistical significance (P<.05). The graduated nurse working with an anesthesiologist and graduated nurse working in the surgery room groups also showed a statistically significant difference (P=.028 for both) when comparing workload, despite both working overtime. The worst quality of sleep was associated with the graduated nurse working in the surgery room group, which also showed elevated levels of serum cortisol (>690 nmol/L).

    Besides elevated S-cortisol levels, the graduated nurse working in the surgery room group showed elevated concentrations of lymphocytes (reference 1.1-2.5 × 109 cells/L), CD3 cells (reference 0.7-1.9 × 109 cells/L), CD8 cells (reference 0.2-0.7 × 109 cells/L), and HLA-DR/CD3 cells (reference 0.04-0.2 × 109 cells/L), which imply an activated cellular immune system (Multimedia Appendix 2). HLA-DR/CD3 cells were elevated in the general practitioner with high workload group.

    Participants logged into the application in an observational period of 3 months from 0 to 235 times (median 9.5 times), which is, in general, less than once per week. Based on our definition of adherence to the tool, only 32 of 80 participants (40%) were adherent to the web-based application. The number of log-ins into the web-based application is presented in Multimedia Appendix 3.

    On average, the most logins were recorded by the anesthesiologist and general practitioner with high workload groups. These two groups also showed the highest adherence rates. Meanwhile, the graduated nurse working in the surgery room group had the least logins, and the general practitioner with normal workload group had the lowest adherence rates (Table 2).

    Participants most frequently logged in to the application to get recommendations for improving their lifestyle in the areas of physical activity (497 times) and nutrition (332 times) (Multimedia Appendix 4). There were no differences in adherence to the web-based application between groups (F2=1.744, dfn=4, dfd=75, P=.184).

    As the general practitioner with normal workload group showed the lowest rates of adherence, this group was chosen as the reference for comparison with other groups. Different workplaces of our study groups did not show any correlation with adherence to the web-based application. Except for factors listed in Table 3, no other participant’s characteristics affected the adherence rates. Moreover, a negative correlation with VO2max and S-cortisol was found (F2=–0.238, dfn=4, dfd=75, P=.044).

    Table 1. Basic characteristics from the enrolled participants.
    View this table
    Table 2. Adherence to web-based application according to workplace.
    View this table
    Table 3. Factors that affected the adherence to the web-based application.
    View this table

    Discussion

    Principal Findings

    Occupational stress leads to the burnout of individuals. The prevalence of burnout has been found to be extremely high (up to 75%) among medical staff [13-15] and it has been associated with poor quality of personal relationships, individual well-being, and poorer patient care [16-18]. This research has focused on an intervention to assist health care professionals in developing new personal habits needed to manage occupational stress and increase personal resiliency. The aims of this study were to assess the adherence of female health care workers to use a web-based tool for improving and modifying lifestyle and to explore the potential factors influencing their adherence to use such a tool and demonstrate the outcomes of this program’s adherence to organizational stakeholders or educators. Overall, the adherence to the web-based tool for improving and modifying lifestyle in our study was relatively poor (32/80, 40%). Although the application offers a personalized goal setting, a large majority of health care workers were mainly interested in physical activity and nutrition and found other aspects of the app not applicable to them. Moreover, none of the investigated factors and participant characteristics could explain the difference between the adherers and nonadherers (Table 3).

    Our intervention incorporated a mobile device that provided feedback about diet and activity (Multimedia Appendix 4), both of which were self-reported. Such a technology offers new channels to reconfigure the provision of effective components of behavior and lifestyle change (ie, self-monitoring, goal setting, lifestyle change, and in-person sessions for resiliency). By enabling a remote personalized training, we can reduce the burden of both cost and time on participants, and thus connective technology systems can help ease the burden of stress.

    We included 5 different groups of female health care professionals in the study. Among these groups, only 1 group (graduated nurse working in the surgery room) showed positive biological markers for chronic stress. Participants in this group had an activated immune response and elevated S-cortisol levels at the time of study enrollment. Meanwhile, this group also experienced the worst quality of sleep. Although other groups worked significantly over time compared with the group with normal workload (ie, general practitioner with normal workload), no clear sign of chronic stress has been discovered.

    Prior to study execution, participants showed great interest in the intervention (data not shown), as technologies such as the one used in our study have the potential to overcome time limitations, especially among health care professionals, who generally work overtime. Besides this trial, few technology-supported weight loss interventions have been tested. For example, Rao et al. [8] reviewed randomized clinical trials of internet-based weight loss and weight maintenance programs including diet, physical activity, weight loss, self-monitoring and weight-loss outcomes, goal setting for behavior change, and motivation. One of the trials, performed by Patrick et al. [19], described participant adherence in a 16-week period. The adherence was 100% in the first week, but it declined to 66% by week 16. This shows that digital solutions such as eHealth interventions are confronted with the challenge of loss of participants’ enthusiasm after the initial periods, which is also the case with our study. However, this was not the case in a trial by Burke et al. [20], who conducted a 24-month trial of a behavioral intervention for weight loss including paper records and personal digital assistant with dietary and exercise software, with or without a feedback message. After 6 months, adherence was statistically significantly higher in the 2 personal digital assistant groups than in the paper group and was maintained. These findings suggest that mobile devices still may be a useful tool for self-monitoring as part of standard behavioral interventions.

    Despite not within the scope of this study, interventions do reduce occupational stress among health care professionals, who have a focus on changing their lifestyle [21]. Nonetheless, hospital management is not focusing enough on individual approach, but instead trying to reduce occupational stress with organizational policies and procedures, such as reducing working hours, workload, or increasing additional staff resources [22-24]. Stress is likely a result of both individual- and organizational-level processes, so such efforts do not really work long-term and have restricted potential [25]. Furthermore, the nature of work with continuous exposure to situations which require medical care that saves lives cannot be changed. When searching through the literature, a lack of studies focusing more on investigating interventions to reduce individual occupational stress and burnout was found [14].

    In general, web-based education and self-care programs have been shown to be effective in managing lifestyle changes [26,27]. However, on the downside a common feature for these internet-based interventions is the low rate of user adherence. Although most participants in internet-based trials volunteer, and thus must have some intention to use the program, a substantial proportion of participants never use the program or use it only once [28]. In a review of internet-based interventions for physical activity, rates at 3-month follow-up ranged from 10% to 50% [26]. These rates coincide with those from our study (40%). In our study, the bar between the adherent and nonadherent groups was set quite low, as adherent participants were those who logged into the program at least once a week in a 90-day period. The reasons for low adherence might be attributed to less-focused intervention strategies. The programs administered need to meet the expectations of users in order to have a greater chance of uptake. While potential problems of adherence to interventions are not necessarily unique to programs targeting health care professionals, the focus of these interventions should be on reducing occupational stress while not adding burden to an individual’s workload. It is, therefore, vital to ensure such interventions are integrated into the workplace or the lifestyle in a nonintrusive manner [21]. Participants in our study worked significantly over time, which might be a reason for bad adherence; however, the lowest adherence was observed for the general practitioner with normal workload group, who did not work overtime. Unfortunately, we did not collect the exact reasons as to why the users did not utilize the selected program, so further conclusions cannot be drawn. Another reason might be the design of the application. In this context, design and user-friendliness play an important role in improving adherence. In terms of personalization and application control, numerous studies have shown that people differ in the extent to which they seek and appreciate control [29]. People desiring high control generally seek better control over their events, and hence react with a negative emotional response when opportunities for control are lacking. Thus, in an online context, this may lead to nonadherence. Therefore, the software needs to be flexible enough to provide the end user with some control over the dedicated/selected programs [30]. In addition to the lack of control of activities, automated tailored messages, which are an integral part of and supported by the selected solution/program, might provoke an annoying feeling among users and this again might cause them to log-in less. This was confirmed by Tate et al. [31], who found that participants that received automated tailored messages had the lowest number of log-ins. Therefore, in our opinion, reminders could bring more benefit to the user, as they represent a trigger.

    Limitations

    Our study had some limitations, such as small sample size, which limited the trial to study factors related to adherence. Based on the inclusion criteria, only the most motivated health care workers participated in the study, who wanted to change their lifestyle and represented only 3 different profile groups, namely, general practitioner, anesthesiologist, and graduated nurses. A majority of participants assessed had experienced/experiencing high workload. Thus, our results have a limited generalizability to all health care workers. In addition, subjective data about working hours of participant might overestimate their workload. Although adherence to the web-based tool was assessed, the influence of the web-based tool on lifestyle changes was not assessed in this study. Therefore, additional research is needed to further examine the relationship between QWL and occupational stressors. These may ultimately lead to the development and implementation of programs that are tailored to meet the needs of health care employees.

    Conclusions

    Adherence of health care workers to personalized web-based tools for improving their lifestyle in the current sociocultural environment remains relatively poor. Thus, it is necessary to use a qualitative approach to identify which interventions might be and which ways of implementing these interventions would be appropriate based on the needs of health care workers. In the future, it will be also necessary to not just follow the adherence to the web-based tool, but also to follow the effect of the use of such a tool on lifestyle changes and well-being of health care workers. This study also found that the benefits of behavioral interventions for occupational stress in health care professionals might be less optimal. The challenge for educators is thus to identify programs that are effective in improving QWL in health care workers.

    Conflicts of Interest

    None declared.

    Multimedia Appendix 1

    VO2 max formula.

    DOCX File , 14 KB

    Multimedia Appendix 2

    Immunity status of participants at enrolment into the study.

    DOCX File , 18 KB

    Multimedia Appendix 3

    Number of entries to the web-based application in the observational period of 90 days.

    DOCX File , 15 KB

    Multimedia Appendix 4

    Interest of entries to the web-based application.

    DOCX File , 15 KB

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    Abbreviations

    EDTA: ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid
    GP: general practitioner
    OR: odds ratio
    QWL: quality of work life
    STAI-X: State-Trait Anxiety Inventory
    SWLS: Satisfaction With Life Scale
    VO2max: maximal oxygen consumption


    Edited by G Eysenbach; submitted 20.04.20; peer-reviewed by N Haliti, M Skvarc; comments to author 12.06.20; revised version received 14.06.20; accepted 14.06.20; published 14.08.20

    ©Tomislav Jukic, Alojz Ihan, Marija Petek Šter, Vojko Strojnik, David Stubljar, Andrej Starc. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 14.08.2020.

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