Background: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with chronic diseases have increased over the past decade and become increasingly important to a wide range of clinicians, policy makers, and other health care stakeholders. While a few criticisms about their methodological rigor and synthesis approaches have recently appeared, no formal appraisal of their quality has been conducted yet.
Objective: The primary aim of this critical review was to evaluate the methodology, quality, and reporting characteristics of prior reviews that have investigated the effects of home telemonitoring interventions in the context of chronic diseases.
Methods: Ovid MEDLINE, the Database of Abstract of Reviews of Effects (DARE), and Health Technology Assessment Database (HTA) of the Cochrane Library were electronically searched to find relevant systematic reviews, published between January 1966 and December 2012. Potential reviews were screened and assessed for inclusion independently by three reviewers. Data pertaining to the methods used were extracted from each included review and examined for accuracy by two reviewers. A validated quality assessment instrument, R-AMSTAR, was used as a framework to guide the assessment process.
Results: Twenty-four reviews, nine of which were meta-analyses, were identified from more than 200 citations. The bibliographic search revealed that the number of published reviews has increased substantially over the years in this area and although most reviews focus on studying the effects of home telemonitoring on patients with congestive heart failure, researcher interest has extended to other chronic diseases as well, such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma. Nevertheless, an important number of these reviews appear to lack optimal scientific rigor due to intrinsic methodological issues. Also, the overall quality of reviews does not appear to have improved over time. While several criteria were met satisfactorily by either all or nearly all reviews, such as the establishment of an a priori design with inclusion and exclusion criteria, use of electronic searches on multiple databases, and reporting of studies characteristics, there were other important areas that needed improvement. Duplicate data extraction, manual searches of highly relevant journals, inclusion of gray and non-English literature, assessment of the methodological quality of included studies and quality of evidence were key methodological procedures that were performed infrequently. Furthermore, certain methodological limitations identified in the synthesis of study results have affected the results and conclusions of some reviews.
Conclusions: Despite the availability of methodological guidelines that can be utilized to guide the proper conduct of systematic reviews and meta-analyses and eliminate potential risks of bias, this knowledge has not yet been fully integrated in the area of home telemonitoring. Further efforts should be made to improve the design, conduct, reporting, and publication of systematic reviews and meta-analyses in this area.
Keywords: chronic diseases; diabetes; heart failure; home telemonitoring; hypertension; meta-analysis as topic; pulmonary disease; quality assessment; risk of bias; systematic review as topic; telehealth; telemetry.