Digital Mental Health Interventions for Depression: Scoping Review of User Engagement

Jessica M. Lipschitz, Rachel Van Boxtel, John Torous, Joseph Firth, Julia G. Lebovitz, Katherine E. Burdick, Timothy P. Hogan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: While many digital mental health interventions (DMHIs) have been found to be efficacious, patient engagement with DMHIs has increasingly emerged as a concern for implementation in real-world clinical settings. To address engagement, we must first understand what standard engagement levels are in the context of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and how these compare with other treatments. Objective: This scoping review aims to examine the state of reporting on intervention engagement in RCTs of mobile app–based interventions intended to treat symptoms of depression. We sought to identify what engagement metrics are and are not routinely reported as well as what the metrics that are reported reflect about standard engagement levels. Methods: We conducted a systematic search of 7 databases to identify studies meeting our eligibility criteria, namely, RCTs that evaluated use of a mobile app–based intervention in adults, for which depressive symptoms were a primary outcome of interest. We then extracted 2 kinds of information from each article: intervention details and indices of DMHI engagement. A 5-element framework of minimum necessary DMHI engagement reporting was derived by our team and guided our data extraction. This framework included (1) recommended app use as communicated to participants at enrollment and, when reported, app adherence criteria; (2) rate of intervention uptake among those assigned to the intervention; (3) level of app use metrics reported, specifically number of uses and time spent using the app; (4) duration of app use metrics (ie, weekly use patterns); and (5) number of intervention completers. Results: Database searching yielded 2083 unique records. Of these, 22 studies were eligible for inclusion. Only 64% (14/22) of studies included in this review specified rate of intervention uptake. Level of use metrics was only reported in 59% (13/22) of the studies reviewed. Approximately one-quarter of the studies (5/22, 23%) reported duration of use metrics. Only half (11/22, 50%) of the studies reported the number of participants who completed the app-based components of the intervention as intended or other metrics related to completion. Findings in those studies reporting metrics related to intervention completion indicated that between 14.4% and 93.0% of participants randomized to a DMHI condition completed the intervention as intended or according to a specified adherence criteria. Conclusions: Findings suggest that engagement was underreported and widely varied. It was not uncommon to see completion rates at or below 50% (11/22) of those participants randomized to a treatment condition or to simply see completion rates not reported at all. This variability in reporting suggests a failure to establish sufficient reporting standards and limits the conclusions that can be drawn about level of engagement with DMHIs. Based on these findings, the 5-element framework applied in this review may be useful as a minimum necessary standard for DMHI engagement reporting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere39204
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • adherence
  • depression
  • engagement
  • mHealth
  • mobile apps
  • randomized controlled trials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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