Barriers to and Facilitators of Technology in Cardiac Rehabilitation and Self-Management: Systematic Qualitative Grounded Theory Review

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Nov 11;22(11):e18025. doi: 10.2196/18025.


Background: Dealing with cardiovascular disease is challenging, and people often struggle to follow rehabilitation and self-management programs. Several systematic reviews have explored quantitative evidence on the potential of digital interventions to support cardiac rehabilitation (CR) and self-management. However, although promising, evidence regarding the effectiveness and uptake of existing interventions is mixed. This paper takes a different but complementary approach, focusing on qualitative data related to people's experiences of technology in this space.

Objective: Through a qualitative approach, this review aims to engage more directly with people's experiences of technology that supports CR and self-management. The primary objective of this paper is to provide answers to the following research question: What are the primary barriers to and facilitators and trends of digital interventions to support CR and self-management? This question is addressed by synthesizing evidence from both medical and computer science literature. Given the strong evidence from the field of human-computer interaction that user-centered and iterative design methods increase the success of digital health interventions, we also assess the degree to which user-centered and iterative methods have been applied in previous work.

Methods: A grounded theory literature review of articles from the following major electronic databases was conducted: ACM Digital Library, PsycINFO, Scopus, and PubMed. Papers published in the last 10 years, 2009 to 2019, were considered, and a systematic search with predefined keywords was conducted. Papers were screened against predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. Comparative and in-depth analysis of the extracted qualitative data was carried out through 3 levels of iterative coding and concept development.

Results: A total of 4282 articles were identified in the initial search. After screening, 61 articles remained, which were both qualitative and quantitative studies and met our inclusion criteria for technology use and health condition. Of the 61 articles, 16 qualitative articles were included in the final analysis. Key factors that acted as barriers and facilitators were background knowledge and in-the-moment understanding, personal responsibility and social connectedness, and the need to support engagement while avoiding overburdening people. Although some studies applied user-centered methods, only 6 involved users throughout the design process. There was limited evidence of studies applying iterative approaches.

Conclusions: The use of technology is acceptable to many people undergoing CR and self-management. Although background knowledge is an important facilitator, technology should also support greater ongoing and in-the-moment understanding. Connectedness is valuable, but to avoid becoming a barrier, technology must also respect and enable individual responsibility. Personalization and gamification can also act as facilitators of engagement, but care must be taken to avoid overburdening people. Further application of user-centered and iterative methods represents a significant opportunity in this space.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; grounded theory; mobile phone; self-care; self-management; systematic review; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Rehabilitation / methods*
  • Grounded Theory*
  • Humans
  • Self-Management / methods*
  • Technology / methods*
  • Telemedicine / methods*