Rural residents' perspectives on an mhealth or personalized health coaching intervention: Qualitative study with focus groups and key informant interviews

Nancy Schoenberg*, Madeline Dunfee, Hannah Yeager, Matthew Rutledge, Angela Pfammatter, Bonnie Spring

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Compared with national averages, rural Appalachians experience extremely elevated rates of premature morbidity and mortality. New opportunities, including approaches incorporating personal technology, may help improve lifestyles and overcome health inequities. Objective: This study aims to gather perspectives on whether a healthy lifestyle intervention, specifically an app originally designed for urban users, may be feasible and acceptable to rural residents. In addition to a smartphone app, this program-Make Better Choices 2-consists of personalized health coaching, accelerometer use, and financial incentives. Methods: We convened 4 focus groups and 16 key informant interviews with diverse community stakeholders to assess perspectives on this novel, evidence-based diet and physical activity intervention. Participants were shown a slide presentation and asked open-ended follow-up questions. The focus group and key informant interview sessions were audiotaped, transcribed, and subjected to thematic analysis. Results: We identified 3 main themes regarding Appalachian residents' perspectives on this mobile health (mHealth) intervention: Personal technology is feasible and desirable; challenges persist in implementing mHealth lifestyle interventions in Appalachian communities; and successful mHealth interventions should include personal connections, local coaches, and educational opportunities. Although viewed as feasible and acceptable overall, lack of healthy lifestyle awareness, habitual behavior, and financial constraints may challenge the success of mHealth lifestyle interventions in Appalachia. Finally, participants described several minor elements that require modification, including expanding the upper age inclusion, providing extra coaching on technology use, emphasizing personal and supportive connections, employing local coaches, and ensuring adequate educational content for the program. Conclusions: Blending new technologies, health coaching, and other features is not only acceptable but may be essential to reach vulnerable rural residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere18853
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Community-based participatory research
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Mobile phone
  • Rural populations
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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