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      Beyond the Trial: Systematic Review of Real-World Uptake and Engagement With Digital Self-Help Interventions for Depression, Low Mood, or Anxiety


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          Digital self-help interventions (including online or computerized programs and apps) for common mental health issues have been shown to be appealing, engaging, and efficacious in randomized controlled trials. They show potential for improving access to therapy and improving population mental health. However, their use in the real world, ie, as implemented (disseminated) outside of research settings, may differ from that reported in trials, and implementation data are seldom reported.


          This study aimed to review peer-reviewed articles reporting user uptake and/or ongoing use, retention, or completion data (hereafter usage data or, for brevity, engagement) from implemented pure self-help (unguided) digital interventions for depression, anxiety, or the enhancement of mood.


          We conducted a systematic search of the Scopus, Embase, MEDLINE, and PsychINFO databases for studies reporting user uptake and/or usage data from implemented digital self-help interventions for the treatment or prevention of depression or anxiety, or the enhancement of mood, from 2002 to 2017. Additionally, we screened the reference lists of included articles, citations of these articles, and the titles of articles published in Internet Interventions, Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), and JMIR Mental Health since their inception. We extracted data indicating the number of registrations or downloads and usage of interventions.


          After the removal of duplicates, 970 papers were identified, of which 10 met the inclusion criteria. Hand searching identified 1 additional article. The included articles reported on 7 publicly available interventions. There was little consistency in the measures reported. The number of registrants or downloads ranged widely, from 8 to over 40,000 per month. From 21% to 88% of users engaged in at least minimal use (eg, used the intervention at least once or completed one module or assessment), whereas 7-42% engaged in moderate use (completing between 40% and 60% of modular fixed-length programs or continuing to use apps after 4 weeks). Indications of completion or sustained use (completion of all modules or the last assessment or continuing to use apps after six weeks or more) varied from 0.5% to 28.6%.


          Available data suggest that uptake and engagement vary widely among the handful of implemented digital self-help apps and programs that have reported this, and that usage may vary from that reported in trials. Implementation data should be routinely gathered and reported to facilitate improved uptake and engagement, arguably among the major challenges in digital health.

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          Most cited references25

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          Delivering interventions for depression by using the internet: randomised controlled trial.

          To evaluate the efficacy of two internet interventions for community-dwelling individuals with symptoms of depression--a psychoeducation website offering information about depression and an interactive website offering cognitive behaviour therapy. Randomised controlled trial. Internet users in the community, in Canberra, Australia. 525 individuals with increased depressive symptoms recruited by survey and randomly allocated to a website offering information about depression (n = 166) or a cognitive behaviour therapy website (n = 182), or a control intervention using an attention placebo (n = 178). Change in depression, dysfunctional thoughts; knowledge of medical, psychological, and lifestyle treatments; and knowledge of cognitive behaviour therapy. Intention to treat analyses indicated that information about depression and interventions that used cognitive behaviour therapy and were delivered via the internet were more effective than a credible control intervention in reducing symptoms of depression in a community sample. For the intervention that delivered cognitive behaviour therapy the reduction in score on the depression scale of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies was 3.2 (95% confidence interval 0.9 to 5.4). For the "depression literacy" site (BluePages), the reduction was 3.0 (95% confidence interval 0.6 to 5.2). Cognitive behaviour therapy (MoodGYM) reduced dysfunctional thinking and increased knowledge of cognitive behaviour therapy. Depression literacy (BluePages) significantly improved participants' understanding of effective evidence based treatments for depression (P < 0.05). Both cognitive behaviour therapy and psychoeducation delivered via the internet are effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
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            Measuring student engagement in technology-mediated learning: A review

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              Internet-Delivered Health Interventions That Work: Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses and Evaluation of Website Availability

              Background 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. Objectives 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. Methods 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. Results 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. Conclusions 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.

                Author and article information

                J Med Internet Res
                J. Med. Internet Res
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
                June 2018
                06 June 2018
                : 20
                : 6
                : e199
                [1] 1 Faculty of Health Victoria University of Wellington Wellington New Zealand
                [2] 2 Department of Psychological Medicine The University of Auckland Auckland New Zealand
                [3] 3 School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care The Open University Milton Keynes United Kingdom
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Theresa Fleming terry.fleming@ 123456vuw.ac.nz
                Author information
                ©Theresa Fleming, Lynda Bavin, Mathijs Lucassen, Karolina Stasiak, Sarah Hopkins, Sally Merry. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 06.06.2018.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

                : 26 October 2017
                : 7 December 2017
                : 28 February 2018
                : 17 March 2018

                e-therapy,mobile applications,ehealth,depression,anxiety
                e-therapy, mobile applications, ehealth, depression, anxiety


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