Interventions for patients and caregivers to improve knowledge of sickle cell disease and recognition of its related complications

Review question

We wished to determine if any educational interventions have helped people with sickle cell disease and their caregivers to improve their understanding of the disease, recognize its complications, improve their adherence to treatment, affect how they utilize healthcare and improve other social and psychological problems that they might face.

Background

Sickle cell disease is a lifelong, inherited disorder which can cause a number of complications throughout an individual's life. It may cause a huge burden on both the patient and their family, including frequent visits to healthcare facilities. The illness causes not just physical complications such as painful crises and strokes, but may have many other effects such as depression, poor quality of life, coping issues and poor family relationships. When people with a chronic illness have better understanding about their illness, they manage their illness better and improve their quality of life. We wish to compare effects of different interventions as well as individual interventions to no intervention.

Search date

The evidence is current to 11 April 2016.

Study characteristics

The review included 12 trials (563 people with HbSS, HbSC or HbSβthal aged six to 35 years). Participants were assigned randomly to either educational programs, no program and in some cases to a non-educational program, e.g. art therapy. Interventions ranged from a total of one hour to weekly sessions for eight weeks and post-intervention assessments ranged from the end of the intervention period to 12 months after completion.

Key results

Educational programs and other interventions have resulted in improvements in patient knowledge or understanding of sickle cell disease, and a decrease in depression. Effects on patients' knowledge were maintained for longer than for caregivers. The effects are shown to be small but may result from the fact that most studies had very small numbers of participants and there was much variation between studies. The interventions studied showed no effect on patients' utilization of health services, relationships between families, caregiver or patient skills, coping or health-related quality of life of the patient. No comparative data were reported for patients or caregivers (or both) recognising signs and symptoms leading to self-management. No trials assessed the adherence to treatment.

Quality of the evidence

Trials varied in the interventions being studied as well as how the different outcomes were measured. The quality of evidence was low for the outcome positive coping and moderate for the outcomes child knowledge, healthcare utilization and depression. This suggests that further research is likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the effect of the treatment. Further research using randomized controlled trials with more people (including different populations) are needed to improve our understanding of which interventions are likely to be useful.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review identifies important positive effects of educational interventions on improving patient knowledge of sickle cell disease and depression. Effects on patients' knowledge were maintained for longer than for caregivers. The effect on knowledge was significant but small and whether it offers any clinical benefit is uncertain. Significant factors limiting these effects could be trials being under powered as well as attrition rates. Effects were not statistically significant in assessments of secondary outcomes, possibly due to the paucity of the number of trials and patients and caregivers. Trials showed moderate to high heterogeneity which might impact the results. To better study effects on outcomes, further controlled trials are needed with rigorous attention given to improve recruitment and retention and to decrease bias. Predetermined protocols using similar measurements should be used across multiple sites.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Sickle cell disease is a group of genetic diseases which is especially prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions; however, forced migration and ongoing population movement have spread it throughout the world, with estimated birth rates reaching 0.49 per 1000 in the Americas, 0.07 per 1000 in Europe, 0.68 per 1000 in South and Southeast Asia, and 10.68 per 1000 in Africa. Life for individuals with sickle cell disease can be affected by repeated acute complications and compounded by progressive organ damage. Studies reveal that when people with chronic illness learn self-management, their clinical outcomes and quality of life improves; and they show lower dependence on healthcare services. There are, however, no reviews identifying which interventions improve knowledge and little is known about the impact of patient or care-giver knowledge on clinical and psychosocial outcomes in people with sickle cell disease.

Objectives: 

1. To determine the effectiveness of patient- and caregiver-centred educational interventions for changing knowledge and understanding of sickle cell disease among patients as well as caregivers of people with the disease.

2. To assess the effectiveness and safety of patient- and caregiver-centred educational interventions and programs for the recognition of signs and symptoms of disease-related morbidity, adherence to treatment and healthcare utilization in patients with sickle cell disease.

Search strategy: 

The authors searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Haemoglobinopathies Trials Register, compiled from electronic database searches and handsearching of journals and conference abstract books. Additional trials were sought from the reference lists of the trials and reviews identified by the search strategy.

Date of last search: 11 April 2016.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials which evaluate the effectiveness of individual- and group-based interventions for either the patient with sickle cell disease or their caregivers, or both. Eligible interventions will aim to change knowledge, attitudes or skills, improve psychosocial aspects of the disease as well as treatment adherence and healthcare utilization. Trials evaluating the intervention versus no program, comparing two interventions and those which are part of a multi-faceted intervention to improve a range of sickle cell-related health outcomes are all eligible for inclusion.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently selected trials based on stated inclusion criteria and thereafter examined each selected report to extract data using a prepared, piloted, data collection form. A third author assisted in reaching consensus if there were any discrepancies. Similarly, risk of bias was assessed by two authors and verified by a third author.

Main results: 

A total of 12 trials (11 randomized controlled trials and one quasi-randomized trial) of 563 people with HbSS, HbSC or HbSβthal, aged six to 35 years old, were included in the review; the majority of participants were African-American. Interventions ranged from a total of one hour to weekly sessions for eight weeks and the post-intervention assessments ranged from the end of the intervention period to 12 months after completion. The heterogeneity of the included trials, which encompasses setting, inclusion and exclusion criteria, interventional method and time of assessment, ranged from 'not important' to 'moderate to substantial' for different review outcomes. The overall risk of bias was low for selective reporting, unclear for random sequence generation, allocation concealment, blinding of participants and blinding of outcome assessment. Incomplete outcome reporting and blinding of personnel showed mixed bias representations.

Patient knowledge was assessed by four trials (160 participants) with moderate to substantial heterogeneity. There was evidence that educational programs improved patient knowledge, standardised mean difference 0.87 points (95% confidence interval 0.28 to 1.45, moderate quality evidence), which improved further when a trial with high bias was removed in a sensitivity analysis. Caregiver knowledge, reported in a single trial of 20 families, also showed an improvement, standardised mean difference 0.52 points (95% confidence interval 0.03 to 1.00, moderate quality evidence). The effect on patient knowledge was sustained at longer follow-up periods, whereas the effect on caregiver knowledge was not sustained.

There were two primary outcomes related to the effectiveness of educational programs on the recognition of signs and symptoms of disease-related morbidity. No comparative data were reported for patients or caregivers (or both) recognising signs and symptoms leading to self-management. Data from two trials were analysed for the utilization of health services and showed no evidence of an effect, mean difference 0.33 (95% confidence interval -0.57 to 1.23, moderate quality evidence).

With regard to the review's secondary outcomes, depression showed a statistically significant decline in intervention groups, standardised mean difference -0.66 points (95% confidence interval -1.18, to -0.14, moderate quality evidence). Adherence to treatment was not assessed in any of the identified trials. No effects of interventions were seen on coping, family relationships or health-related quality of life of patients.

The quality of evidence was low for positive coping and moderate for child knowledge, healthcare utilization and depression. This suggests that further research is likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimate of effect and may change the estimates.

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