BACKGROUND: Digital health interventions for managing chronic conditions have great potential. However, the benefits and harms are still unclear.
OBJECTIVE: This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to investigate the benefits and harms of digital health interventions in promoting physical activity in people with chronic conditions.
METHODS: We searched the MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials databases from inception to October 2022. Eligible randomized controlled trials were included if they used a digital component in physical activity promotion in adults with ≥1 of the following conditions: depression or anxiety, ischemic heart disease or heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, knee or hip osteoarthritis, hypertension, or type 2 diabetes. The primary outcomes were objectively measured physical activity and physical function (eg, walk or step tests). We used a random effects model (restricted maximum likelihood) for meta-analyses and meta-regression analyses to assess the impact of study-level covariates. The risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool, and the certainty of the evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation.
RESULTS: Of 14,078 hits, 130 randomized controlled trials were included. Compared with usual care or minimal intervention, digital health interventions increased objectively measured physical activity (end of intervention: standardized mean difference [SMD] 0.29, 95% CI 0.21-0.37; follow-up: SMD 0.17, 95% CI 0.04-0.31) and physical function (end of intervention: SMD 0.36, 95% CI 0.12-0.59; follow-up: SMD 0.29, 95% CI 0.01-0.57). The secondary outcomes also favored the digital health interventions for subjectively measured physical activity and physical function, depression, anxiety, and health-related quality of life at the end of the intervention but only subjectively measured physical activity at follow-up. The risk of nonserious adverse events, but not serious adverse events, was higher in the digital health interventions at the end of the intervention, but no difference was seen at follow-up.
CONCLUSIONS: Digital health interventions improved physical activity and physical function across various chronic conditions. Effects on depression, anxiety, and health-related quality of life were only observed at the end of the intervention. The risk of nonserious adverse events is present during the intervention, which should be addressed. Future studies should focus on better reporting, comparing the effects of different digital health solutions, and investigating how intervention effects are sustained beyond the end of the intervention.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42020189028; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=189028.