Use of behavioral change techniques in web-based self-management programs for type 2 diabetes patients: systematic review

J Med Internet Res. 2013 Dec 13;15(12):e279. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2800.


Background: Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a highly prevalent chronic metabolic disease characterized by hyperglycemia and cardiovascular risks. Without proper treatment, T2DM can lead to long-term complications. Diabetes self-management is recognized as the cornerstone of overall diabetes management. Web-based self-management programs for T2DM patients can help to successfully improve patient health behaviors and health-related outcomes. Theories can help to specify key determinants of the target behaviors and behavior change strategies required to arrive at the desired health outcomes, which can then be translated into specific behavioral techniques or strategies that patients can learn to apply in their daily life. From previous reviews of a wide range of online diabetes self-management tools and programs, it appears that it is still unclear which behavioral change techniques (BCTs) are primarily used and are most effective when it comes to improving diabetes self-management behaviors and related health outcomes.

Objective: We set out to identify which BCTs are being applied in online self-management programs for T2DM and whether there is indication of their effectiveness in relation to predefined health outcomes.

Methods: Articles were systematically searched and screened on the mentioned use of 40 BCTs, which were then linked to reported statistically significant improvements in study outcomes.

Results: We found 13 randomized controlled trials reporting on 8 online self-management interventions for T2DM. The BCTs used were feedback on performance, providing information on consequences of behavior, barrier identification/problem solving, and self-monitoring of behavior. These BCTs were also linked to positive outcomes for health behavior change, psychological well-being, or clinical parameters.

Conclusions: A relatively small number of theory-based online self-management support programs for T2DM have been reported using only a select number of BCTs. The development of future online self-management interventions should be based on the use of theories and BCTs and should be reported accurately.

Keywords: Web-based; behavioral change techniques; online; review; self-management; type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / psychology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Self Care / methods*
  • Self Care / psychology
  • Telemedicine / methods*