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mHealth Addiction Studies Struggle to Find and Keep Participants

Published on Mon Sep 11 2023 by Dustin Van Tate TestaVerstreute Zigaretten auf Schwarz: Symbol für die Gesundheitsgefahren des Rauchens | Kostenlose Bilder mit KI on Flickr Verstreute Zigaretten auf Schwarz: Symbol für die Gesundheitsgefahren des Rauchens | Kostenlose Bilder mit KI on Flickr

In the realm of public health, battles are being waged daily against the pervasive threat of addiction and problematic substance use. One emerging ally in this struggle is mobile health or mHealth, which promises to bridge the gap between those in need and effective interventions. However, a critical review by researchers from the University of Auckland, led by Gayl Humphrey, has unearthed a key challenge undermining the potential of mHealth solutions: the hurdle of participant recruitment and retention in studies evaluating these innovative interventions.

The study, meticulously sifting through over two thousand articles, has distilled insights from 60 peer-reviewed studies which met rigorous inclusion criteria. These studies, primarily focused on smoking cessation, illuminate a pattern of low participant numbers and high dropout rates. This pattern raises a red flag on the potential collection of biased data, threatening the reliability of outcomes and suggesting a need for robust recruitment and diverse engagement strategies.

Indeed, the studies that successfully kept their participants engaged beyond the 95% threshhold tend to recruit from health-engaged populations and employ a mix of in-person, online, and traditional recruitment tactics. Conversely, studies with less discretionary participation criteria seemed to wrestle with higher attrition, hinting at a delicate balance between inclusivity and data integrity.

The implications of these findings are profound. They underscore the urgent necessity for mHealth intervention studies to diversify and intensify recruitment methods, especially when targeting hard-to-reach communities. It also challenges researchers to reevaluate clinical trial designs, which may not be adequately tailored for the digital and behavioral nature of mHealth interventions.

This systematic review unearths crucial lessons learned by scholars in the field, laying out a roadmap for future studies. The way forward includes proactive recruitment strategies, accommodating participant privacy concerns, and the measured use of online advertising. As for retention, the use of incentives, verification of participants, and incorporating technology, like text message prompts, present promising strategies.

The study by Humphrey and colleagues not only sheds light on potential pitfalls but also offers a beacon of hope for mHealth to fulfill its promise in addiction and substance use interventions. As we push boundaries in health science, such research is crucial in ensuring we leave no one behind on the journey toward recovery and well-being.


Written by Kidd, B., McCormack, J., Newcombe, D., Garner, K., O'Shea, A., Humphrey, G.
Tags: Medicine | Medicine:Addiction

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