24 March 2017
Due to easy access and low cost, Internet-delivered therapies offer an attractive alternative to improving health. Although numerous websites contain health-related information, finding evidence-based programs (as demonstrated through randomized controlled trials, RCTs) can be challenging. We sought to bridge the divide between the knowledge gained from RCTs and communication of the results by conducting a global systematic review and analyzing the availability of evidence-based Internet health programs.
The study aimed to (1) discover the range of health-related topics that are addressed through Internet-delivered interventions, (2) generate a list of current websites used in the trials which demonstrate a health benefit, and (3) identify gaps in the research that may have hindered dissemination. Our focus was on Internet-delivered self-guided health interventions that did not require real-time clinical support.
A systematic review of meta-analyses was conducted using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines (PROSPERO Registration Number CRD42016041258). MEDLINE via Ovid, PsycINFO, Embase, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) were searched. Inclusion criteria included (1) meta-analyses of RCTs, (2) at least one Internet-delivered intervention that measured a health-related outcome, and (3) use of at least one self-guided intervention. We excluded group-based therapies. There were no language restrictions.
Of the 363 records identified through the search, 71 meta-analyses met inclusion criteria. Within the 71 meta-analyses, there were 1733 studies that contained 268 unique RCTs which tested self-help interventions. On review of the 268 studies, 21.3% (57/268) had functional websites. These included evidence-based Web programs on substance abuse (alcohol, tobacco, cannabis), mental health (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], phobias, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD]), and on diet and physical activity. There were also evidence-based programs on insomnia, chronic pain, cardiovascular risk, and childhood health problems. These programs tended to be intensive, requiring weeks to months of engagement by the user, often including interaction, personalized and normative feedback, and self-monitoring. English was the most common language, although some were available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, and Mandarin. There were several interventions with numbers needed to treat of <5; these included painACTION, Mental Health Online for panic disorders, Deprexis, Triple P Online (TPOL), and U Can POOP Too. Hyperlinks of the sites have been listed.
A wide range of evidence-based Internet programs are currently available for health-related behaviors, as well as disease prevention and treatment. However, the majority of Internet-delivered health interventions found to be efficacious in RCTs do not have websites for general use. Increased efforts to provide mechanisms to host “interventions that work” on the Web and to assist the public in locating these sites are necessary.