Understanding Engagement in Digital Mental Health and Well-being Programs for Women in the Perinatal Period: Systematic Review Without Meta-analysis

Jacqueline A. Davis, Jeneva L. Ohan, Lisa Y. Gibson, Susan L. Prescott, Amy L. Finlay-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Pregnancy and the postnatal period can be a time of increased psychological distress, which can be detrimental to both the mother and the developing child. Digital interventions are cost-effective and accessible tools to support positive mental health in women during the perinatal period. Although studies report efficacy, a key concern regarding web-based interventions is the lack of engagement leading to drop out, lack of participation, or reduced potential intervention benefits. OBJECTIVE: This systematic review aimed to understand the reporting and levels of engagement in studies of digital psychological mental health or well-being interventions administered during the perinatal period. Specific objectives were to understand how studies report engagement across 4 domains specified in the Connect, Attend, Participate, and Enact (CAPE) model, make recommendations on best practices to report engagement in digital mental health interventions (DMHIs), and understand levels of engagement in intervention studies in this area. To maximize the utility of this systematic review, we intended to develop practical tools for public health use: to develop a logic model to reference the theory of change, evaluate the studies using the CAPE framework, and develop a guide for future data collection to enable consistent reporting in digital interventions. METHODS: This systematic review used the Cochrane Synthesis Without Meta-analysis reporting guidelines. This study aimed to identify studies reporting DMHIs delivered during the perinatal period in women with subclinical mood symptoms. A systematic database search was used to identify relevant papers using the Ovid Platform for MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Scopus, Web of Science, and Medical Subject Headings on Demand for all English-language articles published in the past 10 years. RESULTS: Searches generated a database of 3473 potentially eligible studies, with a final selection of 16 (0.46%) studies grouped by study design. Participant engagement was evaluated using the CAPE framework and comparable variables were described. All studies reported at least one engagement metric. However, the measures used were inconsistent, which may have contributed to the wide-ranging results. There was insufficient reporting for enactment (ie, participants' real-world use of intervention skills), with only 38% (6/16) of studies clearly recording longer-term practice through postintervention interviews. The logic model proposes ways of conceptualizing and reporting engagement details in DMHIs more consistently in the future. CONCLUSIONS: The perinatal period is the optimal time to intervene with strength-based digital tools to build positive mental health. Despite the growing number of studies on digital interventions, few robustly explore engagement, and there is limited evidence of long-term skill use beyond the intervention period. Our results indicate variability in the reporting of both short- and long-term participant engagement behaviors, and we recommend the adoption of standardized reporting metrics in future digital interventions. TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42020162283; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=162283.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere36620
Pages (from-to)e36620
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2022


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