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Self-empowered healthcare has arrived

How Decision Management powers personalized fitness guidance for BodyMedia FITCoach

Brett StinemanBrett Stineman, Foster City, California
Senior Product Marketing Manager for WebSphere Operational Decision Management in IBM Software Group

Cheryl WilsonCheryl Wilson, Eugene, Oregon
Demand Program Manager for Decision Management in IBM Software Group

Improving fitness and losing weight with the help of devices has been around for over 100 years. Some devices disappear only to re-appear, such as electrical stimulation of muscles and mechanisms that shake, vibrate and target specific areas of the body in various ways. There have also been many different devices to help people track progress towards their fitness goals, such as the pedometer, which dates back to 1780. One thing you can count on today: numerous new products continue to be released each year to help people get and stay fit.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BodyMedia, Inc. announced a new product in their FIT system called the FITCoach. The company is dedicated to making lives healthier by putting personalized, actionable information into the hands of its users. BodyMedia was already selling their FIT body monitor armband, which can sense a variety of data from your body such as calories burned, steps taken, sleep quality, etc. – collecting up to 5,000 data points per minute. This information can be downloaded to a web-based Activity Manager application to track actual information against fitness goals. Now, BodyMedia has added the FITCoach, which uses IBM’s business rules technology to provide detailed feedback and guidance for achieving those goals.

What makes the FITCoach newsworthy?

What’s new is the combination of an unobtrusive monitoring device, the armband, with a highly personalized web portal that makes the FIT system so powerful. Each time a user uploads the data collected by the armband, along with additional user inputs such as food eaten, the FITCoach runs this information against business rules defined by BodyMedia to determine how the individual is progressing against his or her fitness goals. The FITCoach then returns personalized food and exercise guidance. This provides the equivalent of a personal trainer in an automated system, available anytime and anywhere.

BodyMedia’s CEO, Christine Robins, describes the FITCoach in a recent A Smarter Planet blog post:

The FITCoach can be a best friend, mentor and guide, tailoring advice based on a user’s physical activity, sleep, food consumption and weight loss goals. Using a predictive calculation unique for each person, we can help users understand if they will fall short of daily goals and will offer precise suggestions that help make the goal a reality – like hopping on the treadmill for twenty minutes or taking a ten minute walk outside or even providing meal suggestions.

According to a 9-month clinical study (link resides outside of ibm.com) sponsored by BodyMedia, the FIT system produced positive results when compared to groups in a weight loss program without FIT system.

People who used the BodyMedia Armband as part of a group weight loss program lost 3x more weight (or 5lbs. more) than those on their own at four months. Those who used the Armband on their own without group sessions lost more than 2x as much weight as the control [group].

Business rules management: The power behind FITCoach

The IBM WebSphere® Operational Decision Management product powers the FIT system’s feedback engine. It is based on IBM’s business rules management software, which allows non-technical subject matter experts to author and edit business rules using a natural language vocabulary. In addition, business users can validate rule changes before handing them off to IT for deployment. From a runtime perspective, the rules technology provides the ability to deliver highly precise, context-specific guidance for every BodyMedia customer.

This is an innovative use of a technology that is typically used by organizations to improve the quality of automated decisions in their business systems; for example, see “9 day-to-day decisions you can make better with operational decision management.” BodyMedia has shown yet another way to apply rules-based decision automation to provide precise and personalized interactions.

Another benefit of using operational decision management is the ability to create and manage large numbers of rules, including creating separate rule projects for each BodyMedia partner who resells the FIT armband in conjunction with their own fitness or weight loss programs, such as Jillian Michaels. The degree of customization is virtually limitless, and the ability to manage rules in an easy, safe and reliable manner creates a competitive advantage for BodyMedia, while also providing continued relevance for its users.

What’s next for the FIT system?

BodyMedia has not yet leveraged the event processing capabilities available in WebSphere Operational Decision Management, which bring real-time detection of event-based data patterns, allowing for more responsive decision automation. Combined with the FIT system’s smart phone integration, the implementation of business events can provide real-time feedback without requiring batch data uploads; for example, detection that the user’s calorie burn rate has not exceeded a specified threshold for a defined period of time could trigger a text message recommending a specific activity (as determined by running the event trigger data against business rules).

By combining business rules and business events together, WebSphere Operational Decision Management can increase the degree of timely, relevant guidance, bringing an advanced level of personalization to decision automation. It will be another surge in what Robins describes as “a new wave of self-empowered healthcare.”

To learn about applying decision management within your organization, download the whitepaper: Becoming a Decision-centric Organization