There is a disconnect between the ability to swiftly develop e-therapies for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and stress, and the scrupulous evaluation of their clinical utility. This creates a risk that the e-therapies routinely provided within publicly funded psychological health care have evaded appropriate rigorous evaluation in their development.
Systematic searches identified appropriate randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Depression, anxiety, and stress outcomes at the end of treatment and follow-up were synthesized using a random-effects meta-analysis. The grading of recommendations assessment, development, and evaluation approach was used to assess the quality of each meta-analytic comparison. Moderators of treatment effect were examined using subgroup and meta-regression analysis. Dropout rates for e-therapies (as a proxy for acceptability) were compared against controls.
A total of 24 studies evaluating 7 of 48 NHS-recommended e-therapies were qualitatively and quantitatively synthesized. Depression, anxiety, and stress outcomes for e-therapies were superior to controls (depression: standardized mean difference [SMD] 0.38, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.52, N=7075; anxiety and stress: SMD 0.43, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.63, n=4863), and these small effects were maintained at follow-up. Average dropout rates for e-therapies (31%, SD 17.35) were significantly higher than those of controls (17%, SD 13.31). Limited moderators of the treatment effect were found.
Many NHS-recommended e-therapies have not been through an RCT-style evaluation. The e-therapies that have been appropriately evaluated generate small but significant, durable, beneficial treatment effects.
You can read the full study here.