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Original Investigation
May 11, 2021

Effect of a Digital Intervention on Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Comorbid Hypertension or Diabetes in Brazil and Peru: Two Randomized Clinical Trials

Author Affiliations
  • 1Centre for Global Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom
  • 2Population Mental Health Research Centre, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 3Department of Preventive Medicine, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 4School of Nursing, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil
  • 5CRONICAS Center of Excellence in Chronic Diseases, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru
  • 6Bristol Medical School, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
  • 7Federal University of ABC, Engineering, Modeling and Applied Social Sciences Center (CECS), Santo André, Brazil
  • 8Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
  • 9Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru
JAMA. 2021;325(18):1852-1862. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.4348
Visual Abstract. Digital Intervention for Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Comorbid Hypertension or Diabetes
Digital Intervention for Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Comorbid Hypertension or Diabetes
Key Points

Question  What is the effect of a behavioral activation digital intervention delivered over a 6-week period on depressive symptoms among patients with comorbid hypertension or diabetes in Brazil and Peru?

Findings  In 2 randomized clinical trials conducted separately in São Paulo, Brazil (880 participants), and Lima, Peru (432 participants), a significantly greater proportion of participants who received the digital intervention, compared with enhanced usual care, experienced at least a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms at 3 months (40.7% vs 28.6% in Brazil; [odds ratio, 1.6]; 52.7% vs 34.1% in Peru [odds ratio, 2.1]), although the differences were no longer statistically significant at 6 months.

Meaning  A digital intervention for patients with depressive symptoms and comorbid hypertension or diabetes significantly improved depressive symptoms at 3 months compared with enhanced usual care in Peru and Brazil, but the effects were not sustained at 6 months in either of the 2 trials.

Abstract

Importance  Depression is a leading contributor to disease burden globally. Digital mental health interventions can address the treatment gap in low- and middle-income countries, but the effectiveness in these countries is unknown.

Objective  To investigate the effectiveness of a digital intervention in reducing depressive symptoms among people with diabetes and/or hypertension.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Participants with clinically significant depressive symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-9 [PHQ-9] score ≥10) who were being treated for hypertension and/or diabetes were enrolled in a cluster randomized clinical trial (RCT) at 20 sites in São Paulo, Brazil (N=880; from September 2016 to September 2017; final follow-up, April 2018), and in an individual-level RCT at 7 sites in Lima, Peru (N=432; from January 2017 to September 2017; final follow-up, March 2018).

Interventions  An 18-session, low-intensity, digital intervention was delivered over 6 weeks via a provided smartphone, based on behavioral activation principles, and supported by nurse assistants (n = 440 participants in 10 clusters in São Paulo; n = 217 participants in Lima) vs enhanced usual care (n = 440 participants in 10 clusters in São Paulo; n = 215 participants in Lima).

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was a reduction of at least 50% from baseline in PHQ-9 scores (range, 0-27; higher score indicates more severe depression) at 3 months. Secondary outcomes included a reduction of at least 50% from baseline PHQ-9 scores at 6 months.

Results  Among 880 patients cluster randomized in Brazil (mean age, 56.0 years; 761 [86.5%] women) and 432 patients individually randomized in Peru (mean age, 59.7 years; 352 [81.5%] women), 807 (91.7%) in Brazil and 426 (98.6%) in Peru completed at least 1 follow-up assessment. The proportion of participants in São Paulo with a reduction in PHQ-9 score of at least 50% at 3-month follow-up was 40.7% (159/391 participants) in the digital intervention group vs 28.6% (114/399 participants) in the enhanced usual care group (difference, 12.1 percentage points [95% CI, 5.5 to 18.7]; adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.6 [95% CI, 1.2 to 2.2]; P = .001). In Lima, the proportion of participants with a reduction in PHQ-9 score of at least 50% at 3-month follow-up was 52.7% (108/205 participants) in the digital intervention group vs 34.1% (70/205 participants) in the enhanced usual care group (difference, 18.6 percentage points [95% CI, 9.1 to 28.0]; adjusted OR, 2.1 [95% CI, 1.4 to 3.2]; P < .001). At 6-month follow-up, differences across groups were no longer statistically significant.

Conclusions and Relevance  In 2 RCTs of patients with hypertension or diabetes and depressive symptoms in Brazil and Peru, a digital intervention delivered over a 6-week period significantly improved depressive symptoms at 3 months when compared with enhanced usual care. However, the magnitude of the effect was small in the trial from Brazil and the effects were not sustained at 6 months.

Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT02846662 (São Paulo) and NCT03026426 (Lima)

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