Predicting heterogeneous treatment effects of an Internet-based depression intervention for patients with chronic back pain: Secondary analysis of two randomized controlled trials

Mathias Harrer, David Daniel Ebert, Paula Kuper, Sarah Paganini, Sandra Schlicker, Yannik Terhorst, Benedikt Reuter, Lasse B. Sander, Harald Baumeister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Depression is highly prevalent among individuals with chronic back pain. Internet-based interventions can be effective in treating and preventing depression in this patient group, but it is unclear who benefits most from this intervention format. Method: In an analysis of two randomized trials (N = 504), we explored ways to predict heterogeneous treatment effects of an Internet-based depression intervention for patients with chronic back pain. Univariate treatment-moderator interactions were explored in a first step. Multilevel model-based recursive partitioning was then applied to develop a decision tree model predicting individualized treatment benefits. Results: The average effect on depressive symptoms was d = −0.43 (95 % CI: −0.68 to –0.17; 9 weeks; PHQ-9). Using univariate models, only back pain medication intake was detected as an effect moderator, predicting higher effects. More complex interactions were found using recursive partitioning, resulting in a final decision tree with six terminal nodes. The model explained a large amount of variation (bootstrap-bias-corrected R2 = 45 %), with predicted subgroup-conditional effects ranging from di = 0.24 to −1.31. External validation in a pilot trial among patients on sick leave (N = 76; R2 = 33 %) pointed to the transportability of the model. Conclusions: The studied intervention is effective in reducing depressive symptoms, but not among all chronic back pain patients. Predictions of the multivariate tree learning model suggest a pattern in which patients with moderate depression and relatively low pain self-efficacy benefit most, while no benefits arise when patients' self-efficacy is already high. If corroborated in further studies, the developed tree algorithm could serve as a practical decision-making tool.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100634
JournalInternet Interventions
Volume33
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Keywords

  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Internet-delivered CBT
  • Machine learning

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