Patient-focused Internet interventions in reproductive medicine: a scoping review

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

The Internet has revolutionized fertility care since it became a popular source of information and support for infertile patients in the last decade. The aim of this scoping review is to map (i) the main categories of patient-focused Internet interventions within fertility care, (ii) the detailed composition of the interventions and (iii) how these interventions were evaluated.

METHODS

A literature search used various ‘Internet’ and ‘Infertility’ search terms to identify relevant studies published up to 1 September 2011. The selected studies had to include patients facing infertility and using an infertility-related Internet intervention. We charted data regarding categories of interventions, components of interventions and evaluation methodology. We categorized the stages of research using the UK's Medical Research Council framework for evaluating complex interventions.

RESULTS

We included 20 studies and identified 3 educational interventions, 2 self-help interventions, 1 human-supported therapeutic intervention, 9 online support groups and 2 counselling services. Information provision, support and mental health promotion were common aims. Few interactive online components were present in the online programmes. Three studies were in the pilot phase and 17 were in the evaluation phase.

CONCLUSIONS

Several categories of patient-focused Internet-based interventions in fertility care are primarily applied to provide support and education and promote mental health. The interventions could be improved by using more interactive and dynamic elements as their key components. Finally, more emphasis on methodological standards for complex interventions is needed to produce more rigorous evaluations. This review shows where further development or research into patient-focused Internet interventions in fertility-care practice may be warranted.

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