BACKGROUND: Telemedicine has played a vital role in providing psychiatric treatment to patients during the rapid transition of services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the use of telemedicine is expected to expand within the psychiatric field. The efficacy of telemedicine is well described in scientific literature. However, there is a need for a comprehensive quantitative review that analyzes and considers the different clinical outcomes and psychiatric diagnoses.
OBJECTIVE: This paper aimed to assess whether individual psychiatric outpatient treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders in adults using telemedicine is equivalent to in-person treatment.
METHODS: A systematic search of randomized controlled trials was conducted using recognized databases for this review. Overall, 4 outcomes were assessed: treatment efficacy, levels of patient satisfaction, working alliance, and attrition rate. The inverse-variance method was used to summarize the effect size for each outcome.
RESULTS: A total of 7414 records were identified, and 20 trials were included in the systematic review and meta-analysis. The trials included posttraumatic stress disorder (9 trials), depressive disorder (6 trials), a mix of different disorders (4 trials), and general anxiety disorder (1 trial). Overall, the analyses yielded evidence that telemedicine is comparable with in-person treatment regarding treatment efficacy (standardized mean difference -0.01, 95% CI -0.12 to 0.09; P=.84; I 2=19%, 17 trials, n=1814), patient satisfaction mean difference (-0.66, 95% CI -1.60 to 0.28; P=.17; I 2=44%, 6 trials, n=591), and attrition rates (risk ratio 1.07, 95% CI 0.94-1.21; P=.32; I 2=0%, 20 trials, n=2804). The results also indicated that the working alliance between telemedicine and in-person modalities was comparable, but the heterogeneity was substantial to considerable (mean difference 0.95, 95% CI -0.47 to 2.38; P=.19; I 2=75%, 6 trials, n=539).
CONCLUSIONS: This meta-analysis provided new knowledge on individual telemedicine interventions that were considered equivalent to in-person treatment regarding efficacy, patient satisfaction, working alliance, and attrition rates across diagnoses. The certainty of the evidence regarding efficacy was rated as moderate. Furthermore, high-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to strengthen the evidence base for treatment provided via telemedicine in psychiatry, particularly for personality disorders and a range of anxiety disorders where there is a lack of studies. Individual patient data meta-analysis is suggested for future studies to personalize telemedicine.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42021256357; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=256357.
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