Extending access to a web-based mental health intervention: who wants more, what happens to use over time, and is it helpful? Results of a concealed, randomized controlled extension study [2019]

Web-based mental health applications may be beneficial, but adoption is often low leaving optimal implementation and payment models unclear. This study examined which users were interested in extended access to a web-based application beyond an initial 3-month trial period and evaluated if an additional 3 months of access was beneficial.

This study was a concealed extension of a multi-center, pragmatic randomized controlled trial that assessed the benefit of 3 months of access to the Big White Wall (BWW), an anonymous web-based moderated, multi-component mental health application offering self-directed activities and peer support. Trial participants were 16 years of age or older, recruited from hospital-affiliated mental health programs. Participants who received access to the intervention in the main trial and completed 3-month outcome assessments were offered participation. We compared those who were and were not interested in an extension of the intervention, and re-randomized consenting participants 1:1 to receive extended access or not over the subsequent 3 months. Use of the intervention was monitored in the extension group and outcomes were measured at 3 months after re-randomization in both groups. The primary outcome was mental health recovery as assessed by total score on the Recovery Assessment Scale (RAS-r), as in the main trial. Linear mixed models were used to examine the time by group interaction to assess for differences in responses over the 3-month extension study.

Of 233 main trial participants who responded, 119 (51.1%) indicated an interest in receiving extended BWW access. Those who were interested had significantly higher baseline anxiety symptoms compared to those who were not interested. Of the 119, 112 were re-randomized (55 to extended access, 57 to discontinuation). Only 21 of the 55 extended access participants (38.2%) used the intervention during the extension period. Change in RAS-r scores over time was not significantly different between groups (time by group, F(1,77) = 1.02; P = .31).

Only half of eligible participants were interested in extended access to the intervention with decreasing use over time, and no evidence of added benefit. These findings have implications for implementation and payment models for this type of web-based mental health intervention.

Jennifer M. Hensel, James Shaw, Noah M. Ivers, Laura Desveaux, Simone N. Vigod, Zachary Bouck, Nike Onabajo, Payal Agarwal, Geetha Mukerji, Rebecca Yang, Megan Nguyen, Lianne Jeffs, Trevor Jamieson and R. Sacha Bhatia
BMC Psychiatry, 2019 19:39