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INTRODUCTION: There is a significant growth in the use of digital technology and methods in health-related research, further driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has offered a potential to apply digital health research in hidden, marginalised and excluded populations who are traditionally not easily reached due to economic, societal and legal barriers. To better inform future digital health studies of these vulnerable populations, we proposed a scoping review to comprehensively map published evidence and guidelines on the applications and challenges of digital health research methods to hard-to-reach communities. METHODS AND ANALYSIS: This review will follow the Arksey and O' Malley methodological framework for scoping reviews. The framework for the review will employ updated methods developed by the Joanna Briggs Institute including the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis Scoping Review checklist. PubMed, the Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, Google Scholar and Greenfile are the identified databases for peer-reviewed quantitative and qualitative studies in-scope of the review. Grey literature focused on guidance and best practice in digital health research, and hard-to-reach populations will also be searched following published protocols. The review will focus on literature published between 1 February 2012 and 1 February 2022. Two reviewers are engaged in the review. After screening the title and abstract to determine the eligibility of each article, a thorough full-text review of eligible articles will be conducted using a data extraction framework. Key extracted information will be mapped in tabular and visualised summaries to categorise the breadth of literature and identify key digital methods, including their limitations and potential, for use in hard-to-reach populations. ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: This scoping review does not require ethical approval. The results of the scoping review will consist of peer-reviewed publications, presentations and knowledge mobilisation activities including a lay summary posted via social media channels and production of a policy brief.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





Health informatics, Information technology, PUBLIC HEALTH, COVID-19, Humans, Pandemics, Policy, Research Design, Review Literature as Topic, Social Media, Systematic Reviews as Topic