Web-based Therapy Plus Support

Web-based Therapy Plus Support by a Coach in Depressed Patients Referred to Secondary Mental Health Care: Randomised Controlled Trial

Hatcher, S; Whittaker, R; Patton, M; Sylvester, W; Ralph, N; Kercher, K; Sharon, C; (2018)

JMIR Mental Health 2018; 5(1):e5. DOI: 10.2196/mental.8510. PMID: 29362207.

BACKGROUND: The evidence for the effectiveness of Web-based therapies comes mainly from nonclinical populations, with a few studies in primary care. There is little evidence from patients referred to secondary mental health care with depression. Adherence to Web-based therapies is often poor. One way to increase this is to create a new health service role of a coach to guide people through the therapy.

OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to test in people referred to secondary care with depression if a Web-based therapy (The Journal) supported by a coach plus usual care would be more effective in reducing depression compared with usual care plus an information leaflet about Web-based resources after 12 weeks.

METHODS: We conducted a randomized controlled trial with two parallel arms and a process evaluation that included structured qualitative interviews analyzed using thematic analysis. The coach had a background in occupational therapy. Participants were recruited face-to-face at community mental health centers.

RESULTS: We recruited 63 people into the trial (intervention 35, control 28). There were no statistically significant differences in the change from baseline in Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) scores at 12 weeks comparing The Journal with usual care (mean change in PHQ-9 score 9.4 in the intervention group and 7.1 in the control group, t41=1.05, P=.30; mean difference=2.3, 95% CI −2.1 to 6.7). People who were offered The Journal attended on average about one less outpatient appointment compared with usual care, although this difference was not statistically significant (intervention mean number of visits 2.8 (SD 5.5) compared with 4.1 (SD 6.7) in the control group, t45=−0.80, P=.43; mean difference=1.3, 95% CI −4.5 to 2.0). The process evaluation found that the mean number of lessons completed in the intervention group was 2.5 (SD=1.9; range=0-6) and the number of contacts with the coach was a mean of 8.1 (SD=4.4; range=0-17). The qualitative interviews highlighted the problem of engaging clinicians in research and their resistance to recruitment: technical difficulties with The Journal, which prevented people logging in easily; difficulty accessing The Journal as it was not available on mobile devices; participants finding some lessons difficult; and participants saying they were too busy to complete the sessions.

CONCLUSIONS: The study demonstrated that it is feasible to use a coach in this setting, that people found it helpful, and that it did not conflict with other care that participants were receiving. Future trials need to engage clinicians at an early stage to articulate where Web-based therapies fit into existing clinical pathways; Web-based therapies should be available on mobile devices, and logging in should be easy. The role of the coach should be explored in larger trials.