eHealth interventions for people with chronic kidney disease

What is the issue?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition where kidneys have reduced function over a period of time. To remain well people with CKD need to follow complex diet, lifestyle and medication advice and often need to use several specialist medical services. Some people with advanced CKD may need dialysis or treatment with a kidney transplant. Enabling patients to manage this condition by themselves improves quality and length of life and reduces healthcare costs. Electronic health (eHealth) interventions may improve patients’ ability to look after themselves and improve care provided by healthcare services. eHealth interventions refer to "health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies". However, there is little research evaluating the impact of eHealth interventions in CKD.

What did we do?

We focused on randomised controlled trials (RCT), which enrolled people with CKD (including pre-dialysis, dialysis or kidney transplant), and compared eHealth interventions to usual care.

What did we find?

We found 43 studies involving 6617 people who had CKD that examined if eHealth interventions improve patient care and health outcomes. eHealth interventions used different modes of technology, such as Telehealth, electronic monitors, mobile or tablet applications, text message or emails, websites, and DVDs or videos. Interventions were classified by their intention: educational, reminder systems, self-monitoring, behavioural counselling, clinical decision-aids and mixed interventions. We categorised outcomes into nine domains: dietary intake, quality of life, blood pressure control, medication adherence, results of blood tests, cost-analysis, behaviour, physical activity and clinical end-points such as death. We found that it was uncertain whether using an eHealth interventions improved clinical and patient-centred outcomes compared with usual care. The quality of the included studies was low, meaning we could not be sure that future studies would find similar results.


We are uncertain whether using eHealth interventions improves outcomes for people with CKD. We need large and good quality research studies to help understand the impact of eHealth on the health of people with CKD.

Authors' conclusions: 

eHealth interventions may improve the management of dietary sodium intake and fluid management. However, overall these data suggest that current evidence for the use of eHealth interventions in the CKD population is of low quality, with uncertain effects due to methodological limitations and heterogeneity of eHealth modalities and intervention types. Our review has highlighted the need for robust, high quality research that reports a core (minimum) data set to enable meaningful evaluation of the literature.

Read the full abstract...

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is associated with high morbidity and death, which increases as CKD progresses to end-stage kidney disease (ESKD). There has been increasing interest in developing innovative, effective and cost-efficient methods to engage with patient populations and improve health behaviours and outcomes. Worldwide there has been a tremendous increase in the use of technologies, with increasing interest in using eHealth interventions to improve patient access to relevant health information, enhance the quality of healthcare and encourage the adoption of healthy behaviours.


This review aims to evaluate the benefits and harms of using eHealth interventions to change health behaviours in people with CKD.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Register of Studies up to 14 January 2019 through contact with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review. Studies in the Register are identified through searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, conference proceedings, the International Clinical Trials Register (ICTRP) Search Portal and

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs using an eHealth intervention to promote behaviour change in people with CKD were included. There were no restrictions on outcomes, language or publication type.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed trial eligibility, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias. The certainty of the evidence was assessed using GRADE.

Main results: 

We included 43 studies with 6617 participants that evaluated the impact of an eHealth intervention in people with CKD. Included studies were heterogeneous in terms of eHealth modalities employed, type of intervention, CKD population studied and outcomes assessed. The majority of studies (39 studies) were conducted in an adult population, with 16 studies (37%) conducted in those on dialysis, 11 studies (26%) in the pre-dialysis population, 15 studies (35%) in transplant recipients and 1 studies (2%) in transplant candidates We identified six different eHealth modalities including: Telehealth; mobile or tablet application; text or email messages; electronic monitors; internet/websites; and video or DVD. Three studies used a combination of eHealth interventions. Interventions were categorised into six types: educational; reminder systems; self-monitoring; behavioural counselling; clinical decision-aid; and mixed intervention types. We identified 98 outcomes, which were categorised into nine domains: blood pressure (9 studies); biochemical parameters (6 studies); clinical end-points (16 studies); dietary intake (3 studies); quality of life (9 studies); medication adherence (10 studies); behaviour (7 studies); physical activity (1 study); and cost-effectiveness (7 studies).

Only three outcomes could be meta-analysed as there was substantial heterogeneity with respect to study population and eHealth modalities utilised. There was found to be a reduction in interdialytic weight gain of 0.13kg (4 studies, 335 participants: MD -0.13, 95% CI -0.28 to 0.01; I2 = 0%) and a reduction in dietary sodium intake of 197 mg/day (2 studies, 181 participants: MD -197, 95% CI -540.7 to 146.8; I2 = 0%). Both dietary sodium and fluid management outcomes were graded as being of low evidence due to high or unclear risk of bias and indirectness (interdialytic weight gain) and high or unclear risk of bias and imprecision (dietary sodium intake). Three studies reported death (2799 participants, 146 events), with 45 deaths/1000 cases compared to standard care of 61 deaths/1000 cases (RR 0.74, CI 0.53 to 1.03; P = 0.08). We are uncertain whether using eHealth interventions, in addition to usual care, impact on the number of deaths as the certainty of this evidence was graded as low due to high or unclear risk of bias, indirectness and imprecision.