Clarifying the Concept of Adherence to eHealth Technology: Systematic Review on When Usage Becomes Adherence

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewAcademicpeer-review

127 Citations (Scopus)
149 Downloads (Pure)


Background: In electronic health (eHealth) evaluations, there is increasing attention for studying the actual usage of a technology in relation to the outcomes found, often by studying the adherence to the technology. On the basis of the definition of adherence, we suggest that the following three elements are necessary to determine adherence to eHealth technology: (1) the ability to measure the usage behavior of individuals; (2) an operationalization of intended use; and (3) an empirical, theoretical, or rational justification of the intended use. However, to date, little is known on how to operationalize the intended usage of and the adherence to different types of eHealth technology.

Objective: The study aimed to improve eHealth evaluations by gaining insight into when, how, and by whom the concept of adherence has been used in previous eHealth evaluations and finding a concise way to operationalize adherence to and intended use of different eHealth technologies.

Methods: A systematic review of eHealth evaluations was conducted to gain insight into how the use of the technology was measured, how adherence to different types of technologies was operationalized, and if and how the intended use of the technology was justified. Differences in variables between the use of the technology and the operationalization of adherence were calculated using a chi-square test of independence.

Results: In total, 62 studies were included in this review. In 34 studies, adherence was operationalized as “the more use, the better,” whereas 28 studies described a threshold for intended use of the technology as well. Out of these 28, only 6 reported a justification for the intended use. The proportion of evaluations of mental health technologies reporting a justified operationalization of intended use is lagging behind compared with evaluations of lifestyle and chronic care technologies. The results indicated that a justification of intended use does not require extra measurements to determine adherence to the technology.

Conclusions: The results of this review showed that to date, justifications for intended use are often missing in evaluations of adherence. Evidently, it is not always possible to estimate the intended use of a technology. However, such measures do not meet the definition of adherence and should therefore be referred to as the actual usage of the technology. Therefore, it can be concluded that adherence to eHealth technology is an underdeveloped and often improperly used concept in the existing body of literature. When defining the intended use of a technology and selecting valid measures for adherence, the goal or the assumed working mechanisms should be leading. Adherence can then be standardized, which will improve the comparison of adherence rates to different technologies with the same goal and will provide insight into how adherence to different elements contributed to the outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere402
JournalJournal of medical internet research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Clarifying the Concept of Adherence to eHealth Technology: Systematic Review on When Usage Becomes Adherence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this