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Distance therapy to improve symptoms and quality of life: complementing office-based care with telehealth.

Kroenke K. Distance therapy to improve symptoms and quality of life: complementing office-based care with telehealth. Psychosomatic medicine. 2014 Oct 1; 76(8):578-80.

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Two randomized trials exemplify strategies for administering behavioral interventions through distance therapy-the use of telemedicine or e-health approaches to treating patients outside the conventional in-person office-based visit. In the first trial, telephone-based coping skills training for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was not more effective than an education control in reducing mortality or rehospitalization. However, it was superior in improving psychological and somatic quality of life. In the second trial, a web-based distress management program was not more effective than usual care in postoperative psychological outcomes in patients receiving an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. However, both of these trials raise important methodological issues in designing and interpreting trials testing telehealth delivery of behavioral interventions. Key issues include: 1) selection of the appropriate control group (e.g., when may a usual care or active comparator be preferable to an attention control?); 2) choice of the appropriate outcome (i.e., one most likely to respond to the specific intervention); 3) enrolling only patients who have at least some threshold level of the symptom or risk level for the outcome being targeted by the intervention; 4) focusing on patients likely to participate in telehealth or other distance-administered treatment programs; and 5) optimal timing for the delivery of behavioral interventions that may occur around the time of major events such as hospitalization or procedures. A policy implication is that once distance therapy interventions are proven effective, reimbursement changes will be necessary to enhance the likelihood of uptake by providers and health care systems.

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