Analyzing recommender systems for health promotion using a multidisciplinary taxonomy: A scoping review

Santiago Hors-Fraile*, Octavio Rivera-Romero, Francine Schneider, Luis Fernandez-Luque, Francisco Luna-Perejon, Anton Civit-Balcells, Hein de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background: Recommender systems are information retrieval systems that provide users with relevant items (e.g., through messages). Despite their extensive use in the e-commerce and leisure domains, their application in healthcare is still in its infancy. These systems may be used to create tailored health interventions, thus reducing the cost of healthcare and fostering a healthier lifestyle in the population. Objective: This paper identifies, categorizes, and analyzes the existing knowledge in terms of the literature published over the past 10 years on the use of health recommender systems for patient interventions. The aim of this study is to understand the scientific evidence generated about health recommender systems, to identify any gaps in this field to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) (namely, "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages"), and to suggest possible reasons for these gaps as well as to propose some solutions. Methods: We conducted a scoping review, which consisted of a keyword search of the literature related to health recommender systems for patients in the following databases: ScienceDirect, PsycInfo, Association for Computing Machinery, IEEExplore, and Pubmed. Further, we limited our search to consider only English-language journal articles published in the last 10 years. The reviewing process comprised three researchers who filtered the results simultaneously. The quantitative synthesis was conducted in parallel by two researchers, who classified each paper in terms of four aspects-the domain, the methodological and procedural aspects, the health promotion theoretical factors and behavior change theories, and the technical aspects-using a new multidisciplinary taxonomy. Results: Nineteen papers met the inclusion criteria and were included in the data analysis, for which thirty-three features were assessed. The nine features associated with the health promotion theoretical factors and behavior change theories were not observed in any of the selected studies, did not use principles of tailoring, and did not assess (cost)-effectiveness. Discussion: Health recommender systems may be further improved by using relevant behavior change strategies and by implementing essential characteristics of tailored interventions. In addition, many of the features required to assess each of the domain aspects, the methodological and procedural aspects, and technical aspects were not reported in the studies. Conclusions: The studies analyzed presented few evidence in support of the positive effects of using health recommender systems in terms of cost-effectiveness and patient health outcomes. This is why future studies should ensure that all the proposed features are covered in our multidisciplinary taxonomy, including integration with electronic health records and the incorporation of health promotion theoretical factors and behavior change theories. This will render those studies more useful for policymakers since they will cover all aspects needed to determine their impact toward meeting SDG3.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-155
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Recommender system
  • Tailoring
  • Health intervention
  • Behavior change
  • Patient
  • Recommendation
  • Taxonomy
  • Health promotion

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