psychosocial support interventions, survival, inpatient, outpatient, healthcare



Hospitals, clinics, and health organizations have provided psychosocial support interventions for medical patients to supplement curative care. Prior reviews of interventions augmenting psychosocial support in medical settings have reported mixed outcomes. This meta-analysis addresses the questions of how effective are psychosocial support interventions in improving patient survival and which potential moderating features are associated with greater effectiveness.

Methods and findings

We evaluated randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of psychosocial support interventions in inpatient and outpatient healthcare settings reporting survival data, including studies reporting disease-related or all-cause mortality. Literature searches included studies reported January 1980 through October 2020 accessed from Embase, Medline, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Alt HealthWatch, PsycINFO, Social Work Abstracts, and Google Scholar databases. At least 2 reviewers screened studies, extracted data, and assessed study quality, with at least 2 independent reviewers also extracting data and assessing study quality. Odds ratio (OR) and hazard ratio (HR) data were analyzed separately using random effects weighted models. Of 42,054 studies searched, 106 RCTs including 40,280 patients met inclusion criteria. Patient average age was 57.2 years, with 52% females and 48% males; 42% had cardiovascular disease (CVD), 36% had cancer, and 22% had other conditions. Across 87 RCTs reporting data for discrete time periods, the average was OR = 1.20 (95% CI = 1.09 to 1.31, p < 0.001), indicating a 20% increased likelihood of survival among patients receiving psychosocial support compared to control groups receiving standard medical care. Among those studies, psychosocial interventions explicitly promoting health behaviors yielded improved likelihood of survival, whereas interventions without that primary focus did not. Across 22 RCTs reporting survival time, the average was HR = 1.29 (95% CI = 1.12 to 1.49, p < 0.001), indicating a 29% increased probability of survival over time among intervention recipients compared to controls. Among those studies, meta-regressions identified 3 moderating variables: control group type, patient disease severity, and risk of research bias. Studies in which control groups received health information/classes in addition to treatment as usual (TAU) averaged weaker effects than those in which control groups received only TAU. Studies with patients having relatively greater disease severity tended to yield smaller gains in survival time relative to control groups. In one of 3 analyses, studies with higher risk of research bias tended to report better outcomes. The main limitation of the data is that interventions very rarely blinded personnel and participants to study arm, such that expectations for improvement were not controlled.


In this meta-analysis, OR data indicated that psychosocial behavioral support interventions promoting patient motivation/coping to engage in health behaviors improved patient survival, but interventions focusing primarily on patients’ social or emotional outcomes did not prolong life. HR data indicated that psychosocial interventions, predominantly focused on social or emotional outcomes, improved survival but yielded similar effects to health information/classes and were less effective among patients with apparently greater disease severity. Risk of research bias remains a plausible threat to data interpretation.

Original Publication Citation

Smith TB, Workman C, Andrews C, Barton B, Cook M, Layton R, et al. (2021) Effects of psychosocial support interventions on survival in inpatient and outpatient healthcare settings: A meta-analysis of 106 randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med 18(5): e1003595. 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003595

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Smith TB, Workman C, Andrews C, Barton B, Cook M, Layton R, et al.




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

Included in

Psychology Commons