Scaling Up Maternal Mental healthcare by Increasing access to Treatment (SUMMIT) through non-specialist providers and telemedicine: a study protocol for a non-inferiority randomized controlled trial

Trials. 2021 Mar 5;22(1):186. doi: 10.1186/s13063-021-05075-1.


Background: Depression and anxiety impact up to 1 in 5 pregnant and postpartum women worldwide. Yet, as few as 20% of these women are treated with frontline interventions such as evidence-based psychological treatments. Major barriers to uptake are the limited number of specialized mental health treatment providers in most settings, and problems with accessing in-person care, such as childcare or transportation. Task sharing of treatment to non-specialist providers with delivery on telemedicine platforms could address such barriers. However, the equivalence of these strategies to specialist and in-person models remains unproven.

Methods: This study protocol outlines the Scaling Up Maternal Mental healthcare by Increasing access to Treatment (SUMMIT) randomized trial. SUMMIT is a pragmatic, non-inferiority test of the comparable effectiveness of two types of providers (specialist vs. non-specialist) and delivery modes (telemedicine vs. in-person) of a brief, behavioral activation (BA) treatment for perinatal depressive and anxiety symptoms. Specialists (psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers with ≥ 5 years of therapy experience) and non-specialists (nurses and midwives with no formal training in mental health care) were trained in the BA protocol, with the latter supervised by a BA expert during treatment delivery. Consenting pregnant and postpartum women with Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) score of ≥ 10 (N = 1368) will be randomized to one of four arms (telemedicine specialist, telemedicine non-specialist, in-person specialist, in-person non-specialist), stratified by pregnancy status (antenatal/postnatal) and study site. The primary outcome is participant-reported depressive symptoms (EPDS) at 3 months post-randomization. Secondary outcomes are maternal symptoms of anxiety and trauma symptoms, perceived social support, activation levels and quality of life at 3-, 6-, and 12-month post-randomization, and depressive symptoms at 6- and 12-month post-randomization. Primary analyses are per-protocol and intent-to-treat. The study has successfully continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with needed adaptations, including temporary suspension of the in-person arms and ongoing randomization to telemedicine arms.

Discussion: The SUMMIT trial is expected to generate evidence on the non-inferiority of BA delivered by a non-specialist provider compared to specialist and telemedicine compared to in-person. If confirmed, results could pave the way to a dramatic increase in access to treatment for perinatal depression and anxiety.

Trial registration: NCT04153864 . Registered on November 6, 2019.

Keywords: Anxiety; Behavioral activation; Depression; Perinatal; Psychological treatments; Randomized controlled trial; Telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • COVID-19
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depression, Postpartum / therapy*
  • Equivalence Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration
  • Midwifery
  • Nurses
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / therapy*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Workers
  • Specialization
  • Telemedicine / methods*

Associated data