BACKGROUND: Substance use disorders (SUDs) contribute significantly to global rates of morbidity and mortality. Internet- and mobile-based interventions (IMIs) have been suggested as an adjunct to face-to-face health services. However, the evidence for the cost-effectiveness of IMIs for SUDs is scant.
METHODS: A comprehensive literature search in PubMed, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, NHS Economic Evaluations Database, NHS Health Technology Assessment Database, Office of Health Economics Evaluations Database and EconLit was conducted. We included economic evaluations alongside randomized controlled trials of IMIs for SUDs compared with a control group.
RESULTS: Of 1687 abstracts identified, 11 studies met the inclusion criteria. Targeted conditions were alcohol use disorder (four studies) and tobacco smoking (five studies) whereas two studies included any SUD. Cost-effectiveness results demonstrated that IMIs had a firm probability of being more cost-effective than TAU (e.g. less costs per additional abstinent person). Compared with (online) psycho-education, evidence towards an additional benefit of IMIs was less clear. Regarding cost-utility (e.g. costs per quality-adjusted life year gained), except for one study, results suggested that TAU and online psycho-education would probably be more preferable than IMIs. Quality of study reporting was at least adequate.
CONCLUSIONS: The likelihood of IMIs being more cost-effective than TAU looks promising but more economic evaluations are needed in order to determine the economic merit of IMIs. With an increasing pressure on health care budgets, strategies to disseminate effective interventions at affordable costs are required. This review suggests that IMIs might carry that promise and have potential as a cost-effective strategy to scale-up existing evidence-based treatments for SUDs.
SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION: The systematic review has been registered in the PROSPERO database (no. CRD42018099486).