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JMIR Res Protoc. 2012 Dec 17;1(2):e24. doi: 10.2196/resprot.2415.

Design and Methods for a Comparative Effectiveness Pilot Study: Virtual World vs. Face-to-Face Diabetes Self-Management.

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University of Massachusetts Medical School, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, Worcester, MA, United States.



Type 2 diabetes (diabetes) is a serious threat to public health in the United States and disproportionally affects many racial/ethnic minority groups, including African Americans. Limited access to treatment and high attrition rates further contribute to health disparities in diabetes-related morbidity and mortality among minorities. Greater opportunities for increasing access and decreasing barriers to treatment are needed. Technology-based interventions have potential for accomplishing this goal but evidence of feasibility and potential effectiveness is lacking, especially for populations that traditionally have limited educational attainment and low computer literacy.


This paper describes the design and methods of a pilot randomized clinical trial that will compare the feasibility and potential efficacy of delivering a diabetes self-management intervention via a virtual world vs. a face-to-face format.


Study participants (n=100) will be African American women with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes recruited from primary care practices and affiliated health centers at a large safety net hospital in Massachusetts. Participants will be randomized into a virtual world-based (VW) intervention condition or a face-to-face control condition. Both conditions provide the same theory-based curriculum and equivalent exposure to the self-management program (eight group sessions), and both will be delivered by a single intervention team (a dietitian and a diabetes educator). Assessments will be conducted at baseline and 4 months. Feasibility will be determined by evaluating the degree to which participants engage in the VW-based intervention compared to face to face (number of sessions completed). Potential efficacy will be determined by comparing change in physiological (glycemic control) and behavioral (self-reported dietary intake, physical activity, blood glucose self-monitoring, and medication adherence) outcomes between the experimental and control groups.


The primary outcomes of interest are feasibility of the VW intervention and its potential efficacy on glucose control and diabetes self-management behaviors, compared to the face-to-face condition. Analysis will use a two-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test for changes in variable distribution. P values will be calculated using binomial tests for proportions and t tests for continuous variables.


If the intervention is found to be feasible and promising, it will be tested in a larger RCT.


African Americans; Clinical trials; Education-distance; Health behavior; Health disparities; Minority health; Patient education; Technology; Type 2 diabetes; Virtual systems

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