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Study: Patients’ Online Communication Could Help with Treatment Decision Making

August 1, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Online communication could be used to enhance cancer treatment decision making and care support, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Indeed, women who engaged on social media after a breast cancer diagnosis expressed more deliberation about their treatment decision and more satisfaction with the path they chose. However, little is known about whether and how patients with newly diagnosed cancer use these technologies during the treatment decision process and even less is known about whether online communication use influences patient appraisals of decision making, according to the study, published in JAMA Oncology.

For the study, researchers surveyed 2,460 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer about their use of email, texting, social media and web-based support groups following their diagnosis. Overall, 41 percent of women reported some or frequent use of online communication. Texting and email were most common, with 35 percent of women using it. Twelve percent of women reported using Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites, and 12 percent used web-based support groups.

What’s more, online communication was more common in younger women and those with more education. Use also varied by race, with 46 percent of white women and 43 percent of Asian women reporting frequent use, compared to 35 percent of black women and 33 percent of Latinas.

The researchers also found that women who frequently used online communication had more positive feelings about their treatment decision. They were more likely to report a deliberate decision and more likely to be highly satisfied with their decision.

"Our findings highlight an unmet need in patients for decisional support when they are going through breast cancer treatment," study author Lauren P. Wallner, Ph.D., assistant professor of general medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, said. "But at this point, leveraging social media and online communication in clinical practice is not going to reach all patients. There are barriers that need to be considered," she added.

Wallner additionally noted, “Women reported separate reasons for using each of these modalities. Email and texting were primarily to let people know they had been diagnosed. They tended to use social media sites and web-based support groups to interact about treatment options and physician recommendations.”

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