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Background: Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) in adolescents is common and disabling. Teenagers in the United Kingdom (UK) are more likely to recover if they access specialist care, but most do not have access to a local specialist CFS/ME service. Delivering treatment remotely via the internet could improve access to treatment.
Objective: This study aimed to assess (1) the feasibility of recruitment and retention into a trial of internet-delivered specialist treatment for adolescents with CFS/ME and (2) the acceptability of trial processes and 2 web-based treatments (to inform continuation to full trial).

Methods: This study was an internal pilot for the initial 12 months of a full randomized controlled trial (RCT), with integrated qualitative methods (analysis of recruitment consultations and participant and clinician interviews). Recruitment and treatment were delivered remotely from a specialist pediatric CFS/ME treatment service within a hospital in South West UK. Adolescents (aged 11-17 years) from across the United Kingdom with a diagnosis of CFS/ME and no access to local specialist treatment were referred by their general practitioner to the treatment center. Eligibility assessment and recruitment were conducted via remote methods (telephone and on the web), and participants were randomized (via a computer-automated system) to 1 of 2 web-based treatments. The trial intervention was Fatigue in Teenagers on the InterNET in the National Health Service, a web-based modular CFS/ME-specific cognitive behavioral therapy program (designed to be used by young people and their parents/caregivers) supported by individualized clinical psychologist e-consultations (regular, scheduled therapeutic message exchanges between participants and therapist within the platform). The comparator was Skype-delivered activity management with a CFS/ME clinician (mainly a physiotherapist/occupational therapist). Both treatments were intended to last for up to 6 months. The primary outcomes were (1) the number of participants recruited (per out-of-area referrals received between November 1, 2016, to October 31, 2017) and the proportion providing 6-month outcome data (web-based self-report questionnaire assessing functioning) and (2) the qualitative outcomes indicating acceptability of trial processes and treatments.

Results: A total of 89 out of 150 (59% of potentially eligible referrals) young people and their parents/caregivers were recruited, with 75 out of 89 (84%) providing 6-month outcome data. Overall, web-based treatment was acceptable; however, participants and clinicians described both the advantages and disadvantages of remote methods. No serious adverse events were reported.

Conclusions: Recruiting young people (and their parents/caregivers) into an RCT of web-based treatment via remote methods is feasible and acceptable. Delivering specialist treatment at home via the internet is feasible and acceptable, although some families prefer to travel across the UK for face-to-face treatment.

Trial Registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN): 18020851; http://www.isrctn.com/ISRCTN18020851.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17768
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2020

Structured keywords

  • BTC (Bristol Trials Centre)


  • paediatrics
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • myalgic encephalomyelitis
  • CFS/ME
  • CBT
  • e-health
  • activity management
  • online systems
  • e-therapy
  • e-counselling
  • feasibility RCT
  • qualitative research methods


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