A Call to Digital Health Practitioners: New Guidelines Can Help Improve the Quality of Digital Health Evidence

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Oct 6;5(10):e136. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.6640.


Background: Despite the rapid proliferation of health interventions that employ digital tools, the evidence on the effectiveness of such approaches remains insufficient and of variable quality. To address gaps in the comprehensiveness and quality of reporting on the effectiveness of digital programs, the mHealth Technical Evidence Review Group (mTERG), convened by the World Health Organization, proposed the mHealth Evidence Reporting and Assessment (mERA) checklist to address existing gaps in the comprehensiveness and quality of reporting on the effectiveness of digital health programs.

Objective: We present an overview of the mERA checklist and encourage researchers working in the digital health space to use the mERA checklist for reporting their research.

Methods: The development of the mERA checklist consisted of convening an expert group to recommend an appropriate approach, convening a global expert review panel for checklist development, and pilot-testing the checklist.

Results: The mERA checklist consists of 16 core mHealth items that define what the mHealth intervention is (content), where it is being implemented (context), and how it was implemented (technical features). Additionally, a 29-item methodology checklist guides authors on reporting critical aspects of the research methodology employed in the study. We recommend that the core mERA checklist is used in conjunction with an appropriate study-design specific checklist.

Conclusions: The mERA checklist aims to assist authors in reporting on digital health research, guide reviewers and policymakers in synthesizing evidence, and guide journal editors in assessing the completeness in reporting on digital health studies. An increase in transparent and rigorous reporting can help identify gaps in the conduct of research and understand the effects of digital health interventions as a field of inquiry.

Keywords: checklist; digital health; mHealth; publishing guidelines; reporting.