"Why didn't it work?" Lessons from a randomized controlled trial of a web-based personally controlled health management system for adults with asthma

Annie Y. S. Lau*, Amael Arguel, Sarah Dennis, Siaw-Teng Liaw, Enrico Coiera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Personally controlled health management systems (PCHMS), which may include a personal health record (PHR), health management tools, and information resources, have been advocated as a next-generation technology to improve health behaviors and outcomes. There have been successful trials of PCHMS in various health settings. However, there is mixed evidence for whether consumers will use these systems over the long term and whether they ultimately lead to improved health outcomes and behaviors.

Objective: The aim was to test whether use of a PCHMS by consumers can increase the uptake or updating of a written asthma action plan (AAP) among adults with asthma.

Methods: A 12-month parallel 2-group randomized controlled trial was conducted. Participants living with asthma were recruited nationally in Australia between April and August 2013, and randomized 1: 1 to either the PCHMS group or control group (online static educational content). The primary outcome measure was possession of an up-to-date written AAP poststudy. Secondary measures included (1) utilizing the AAP; (2) planned or unplanned visits to a health care professional for asthma-related concerns; (3) severe asthma exacerbation, inadequately controlled asthma, or worsening of asthma that required a change in treatment; and (4) number of days lost from work or study due to asthma. Ancillary analyses examined reasons for adoption or nonadoption of the intervention. Outcome measures were collected by online questionnaire prestudy, monthly, and poststudy.

Results: A total of 330 eligible participants were randomized into 1 of 2 arms (intervention: n=154; control: n=176). Access to the PCHMS was not associated with a significant difference in any of the primary or secondary outcomes. Most participants (80.5%, 124/154) did not access the intervention or accessed it only once.

Conclusions: Despite the intervention being effective in other preventive care settings, system use was negligible and outcome changes were not seen as a result. Consumers must perceive the need for assistance with a task and assign priority to the task supported by the eHealth intervention. Additionally, the cost of adopting the intervention (eg, additional effort, time spent learning the new system) must be lower than the benefit. Otherwise, there is high risk consumers will not adopt the eHealth intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere283
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • adult
  • asthma
  • eHealth
  • Internet
  • intervention
  • personal health record
  • personally controlled health management system
  • self-management


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