Plain language summary
Background Caregivers providing care to a family member, friend, or neighbour experience the role in differing ways. Some caregivers may find themselves in a caring role for which they are ill prepared and professional support is essential. This review examined whether telephone support interventions delivered by healthcare professionals had positive benefits on a range of outcomes including quality of life, burden (the experience of strain or load), skill acquisition (e.g. problem‐solving), psychological health (e.g. depression), knowledge, physical health, family functioning, satisfaction, or cost, for unpaid caregivers in the community. A telephone support intervention is one that is delivered via the telephone and designed to provide knowledge, advice, or help to caregivers to enable them to manage their own well‐being or that of the person they care for. It is an easily accessible method of providing support irrespective of geographical location. Studies that compared telephone support to usual care or to non‐telephone‐based professional support interventions were included.
Study characteristics We included 21 studies involving 1,690 caregivers caring for persons with a range of diagnosed conditions. Caregiver ages ranged from 19 years to 87 years. Most were female and caring for a family member. The majority were spouses, in particular wives, except for one study that mainly focused on adult children. Most caregivers had greater than secondary school education. Eighteen studies reported funding from reputable sources.
Key results Nineteen studies (18 studies contributing data) compared telephone support interventions and usual care. Telephone support interventions probably have little or no effect on caregiver quality of life (4 studies, 364 caregivers) and may have little effect on burden (9 studies, 788 caregivers) compared to usual care on completion of the intervention. Although anxiety may be slightly reduced and preparedness to care slightly improved following the intervention, we are uncertain about the effects on depression and overall, telephone interventions may have little or no effect on the outcomes assessed by this review. High satisfaction with the intervention was reported in six studies that measured this outcome, but no comparative data from usual care groups was reported. Two studies compared telephone and non‐telephone‐based support interventions. There may be little or no evidence of an effect of telephone support when compared non‐telephone‐based support interventions for any reported outcome. No adverse events were measured or reported in any of the included studies.
Quality of evidence The quality of the evidence was assessed as very low to moderate across outcomes, thus reducing confidence in the findings. Many of the results were based on data from single studies with few participants. Larger well‐designed studies are required to determine the effects of telephone support interventions.