Men who present to the emergency department (ED) with self-harm are at high risk of dying by suicide, with 2.7% of men dying in the year following their presentation, more than double the rate for women (1.2%). Despite this, care received after an ED visit is highly variable and many are not assessed for psychological needs. Furthermore, the limited psychological care that is available is often not covered by provincial health insurance. Even when referrals for follow-up care are made, engagement rates are low. Previous recommendations to improve engagement include written discharge plans, caring contacts, and focused interventions targeting middle-aged men at elevated risk of dying by suicide. Blended care, the incorporation of technology into traditional care, has also been proposed as a method to increase engagement in and clinical benefits from psychotherapy. This project aims to determine whether the delivery of an evidence based treatment (problem-solving therapy (PST)) is enhanced by the addition of a custom smartphone application (BEACON) compared to usual care. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on site participation and the planned implementation, we have made several changes to the study design, primary outcome, and implementation.
We originally proposed a cohort study nested within a larger cluster randomized trial wherein intervention sites would deliver the blended care, and control sites, whose personnel were not aware of their participation, would continue delivering usual care. The cohort study evaluated participant level outcomes as previously described by Hatcher et al. (2020). Due to pandemic-related constraints, our number of participating sites dropped to five potential sites which left the cohort study underpowered. As such, we changed the study design to a multi-site, individual randomized controlled trial (RCT) among the five remaining sites. Participants will be randomized to six sessions of therapy (PST) alone, or to the therapy plus BEACON, and followed up for 6 months. Our primary outcome was changed to evaluate feasibility and acceptability with the aim of designing a definitive RCT. Study implementation was reimagined to allow for completely virtual/online conduct to comply with local COVID-19 and institutional restrictions on in-person activities.
This updated protocol will provide strong results for the planning of a definitive RCT of the blended care intervention in the future, addressing areas of difficulty and concern prior to its implementation. We will evaluate the feasibility of the study intervention, assess recruitment and retention of participants, and address challenges with implementing the protocol. Lastly, we will evaluate the appropriateness of our primary outcome measure and accurately determine a sample size for a definitive RCT.
ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT03473535. Registered on March 22, 2018.