Niels J Elbert , MD 1 , Harmieke van Os-Medendorp , PhD 2 , Wilco van Renselaar 3 , Anne G Ekeland , PhD 4 , 5 , Leona Hakkaart-van Roijen , PhD 6 , 7 , Hein Raat , MD, MBA, PhD 8 , Tamar EC Nijsten , MD, PhD 1 , Suzanne GMA Pasmans , MD, PhD , 1 , 9
16 April 2014
eHealth potentially enhances quality of care and may reduce health care costs. However, a review of systematic reviews published in 2010 concluded that high-quality evidence on the benefits of eHealth interventions was still lacking.
We conducted a systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses on the effectiveness/cost-effectiveness of eHealth interventions in patients with somatic diseases to analyze whether, and to what possible extent, the outcome of recent research supports or differs from previous conclusions.
Literature searches were performed in PubMed, EMBASE, The Cochrane Library, and Scopus for systematic reviews and meta-analyses on eHealth interventions published between August 2009 and December 2012. Articles were screened for relevance based on preset inclusion and exclusion criteria. Citations of residual articles were screened for additional literature. Included papers were critically appraised using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) Statement before data were extracted. Based on conclusions drawn by the authors of the included articles, reviews and meta-analyses were divided into 1 of 3 groups: suitable, promising, or limited evidence on effectiveness/cost-effectiveness. Cases of uncertainty were resolved by consensus discussion. Effect sizes were extracted from papers that included a meta-analysis. To compare our results with previous findings, a trend analysis was performed.
Our literature searches yielded 31 eligible reviews, of which 20 (65%) reported on costs. Seven papers (23%) concluded that eHealth is effective/cost-effective, 13 (42%) underlined that evidence is promising, and others found limited or inconsistent proof. Methodological quality of the included reviews and meta-analyses was generally considered high. Trend analysis showed a considerable accumulation of literature on eHealth. However, a similar percentage of papers concluded that eHealth is effective/cost-effective or evidence is at least promising (65% vs 62%). Reviews focusing primarily on children or family caregivers still remained scarce. Although a pooled (subgroup) analysis of aggregate data from randomized studies was performed in a higher percentage of more recently published reviews (45% vs 27%), data on economic outcome measures were less frequently reported (65% vs 85%).
The number of reviews and meta-analyses on eHealth interventions in patients with somatic diseases has increased considerably in recent years. Most articles show eHealth is effective/cost-effective or at least suggest evidence is promising, which is consistent with previous findings. Although many researchers advocate larger, well-designed, controlled studies, we believe attention should be given to the development and evaluation of strategies to implement effective/cost-effective eHealth initiatives in daily practice, rather than to further strengthen current evidence.