JMIR Publications

JMIR Cancer

Patient-Centered Innovations, Education and Technology for Cancer Care and Cancer Research


Journal Description

JMIR Cancer (JC) is a new peer-reviewed journal with a focus on education, innovation and technology in cancer care and cancer research, as well as in participatory and patient-centred approaches. A sister journal of the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), a leading eHealth journal (Impact Factor 2015: 4.532), the scope of JC is broader and includes non-Internet approaches to improve cancer care and cancer research.

We invite submission of original research, viewpoints, reviews, tutorials, case studies, and non-conventional articles (e.g. open patient education material and software resources that are not yet evaluated but free for others to use/implement). 

In our "Patients' Corner", we invite patients and survivors to submit short essays and viewpoints on all aspects of cancer, but in particular suggestions on how to improve the health care system, and suggestions for new technologies, applications and approaches (no article processing fees).

Articles published in JC will be submitted to PubMed and Pubmed Central. JC is open access and all articles are published under a Creative Commons Attribution license.


Recent Articles:

  • Px Healthcare. Image sourced and copyright owned by authors Danny Young-Afat et al.

    Patients’ and Health Care Providers’ Opinions on a Supportive Health App During Breast Cancer Treatment: A Qualitative Evaluation


    Background: Health apps are increasingly being used in clinical care and may hold significant theoretical potential. However, they are often implemented in clinical care before any research has been done to confirm actual benefits for patients, physicians, and researchers. Objective: This study aimed to explore experiences of patients and health care providers with the use of a supportive breast cancer app during the first 6 months following diagnosis, in terms of benefits for clinical practice and research purposes. Methods: Between June 2013 and April 2014, breast cancer patients of all ages were invited shortly after diagnosis to use a supportive breast cancer app, and were followed for 6 months. Patients were asked to use the app at their own convenience. In-depth interviews were conducted regularly with patients and their medical team (ie, physicians and nurses) to evaluate their experiences. Results: A total of 15 patients aged 30-63 years participated. The medical team consisted of 7 physicians and 3 specialized breast cancer nurses. Out of the 15 patients, 12 (80%) used the app to obtain information on breast cancer and treatment. A total of 11 out of 12 patients (92%) evaluated this information as useful. All 15 patients used the app to record consultations with practitioners, and 14 (93%) found this useful. Symptom registration was used by 8 out of 15 patients (53%), and was found useful by 4 out of these 8 patients (50%). Overall, 14 out of 15 patients (93%) would recommend the app to other patients. The app, in particular the recording function, was rated as useful by 9 out of 10 medical professionals (90%), and they reported that it did not increase consultation time. These 9 professionals would recommend the app to their patients. Conclusions: This evaluation of a supportive health app shows positive experiences among patients and their medical teams. Based on experiences in this study, patients may need to be actively encouraged to regularly register symptoms within health apps to generate sufficient patient-reported app data for use in clinical practice and scientific research.

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    Assessment of Cancer Survivors’ Experiences of Using a Publicly Available Physical Activity Mobile Application


    Background: Regular participation in physical activity (PA) is associated with improved physical and psychosocial outcomes in cancer survivors. However, PA levels are low during and after cancer treatment. Interventions to promote PA in this population are needed. PA mobile apps are popular and have potential to increase PA participation, but little is known about how appropriate or relevant they are for cancer survivors. Objective: This study aims to (1) assess recruitment, study uptake, and engagement for a publicly available PA mobile app (GAINFitness) intervention in cancer survivors; (2) assess cancer survivors’ attitudes towards the app; (3) understand how the app could be adapted to better meet the needs of cancer survivors; and (4) to determine the potential for change in PA participation and psychosocial outcomes over a 6-week period of using the app. Methods: The present study was a one-arm, pre-post design. Cancer survivors (N=11) aged 33 to 62 years with a mean (SD) age of 45 (9.4), and 82% (9/11) female, were recruited (via community/online convenience sampling to use the app for 6 weeks). Engagement with the app was measured using self-reported frequency and duration of usage. Qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted after the 6-week study period and were analyzed using thematic analysis. PA, well-being, fatigue, quality of life (QOL), sleep quality, and anxiety and depression were self-reported at baseline and at a 6-week follow-up using the Godin Leisure Time Exercise Questionnaire (GLTEQ), the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General (FACT-G), the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy (FACIT)-Fatigue Scale Questionnaire, the Health and Quality of Life Outcomes (EQ5D) Questionnaire, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), respectively. Results: Of the people who responded to the study advertisement, 73% (16/22) agreed to participate and 100% (11/11) of the participants who started the study completed all baseline and follow-up outcome measures and the telephone interview. On average, participants used the app twice a week for 25 minutes per session. Four themes were identified from the qualitative interviews surrounding the suitability of the app for cancer survivors and how it could be adapted: (1) barriers to PA, (2) receiving advice about PA from reliable sources, (3) tailoring the application to one’s lifestyle, and (4) receiving social support from others. Pre-post comparison showed significant increases in strenuous PA, improvements in sleep quality, and reductions in mild PA. There were no significant changes in moderate PA or other psychosocial outcomes. Conclusions: All participants engaged with the app and qualitative interviews highlighted that the app was well-received. A generic PA mobile app could bring about positive improvements in PA participation and psychosocial outcomes among cancer survivors. However, a targeted PA app aimed specifically towards cancer survivors may increase the relevance and suitability of the app for this population.

  • Source and copyright: the authors.

    The Effects of Physical Activity on Health and Quality of Life in Adolescent Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review


    Background: There are numerous published controlled trials assessing the safety and the benefits of physical activity (PA) for child and adult cancer survivors. However, trials exclusively comprised of adolescent cancer survivors aged 13-19 years, who may experience different health and quality of life (QOL) effects as a function of their developmental status, are lacking. Rather, some trials have included both adolescent and child cancer survivors together. Objective: The aim of this systematic review was to synthesize the findings from randomized controlled trails (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials (CCTs) investigating the effects of PA on health and QOL outcomes in samples comprised of >50% adolescent cancer survivors to summarize the current state of evidence, identify knowledge gaps, and highlight areas in need of additional research within this population. Methods: Using a search strategy developed for this review, 10 electronic databases were searched for RCTs and CCTs that reported on the effects of PA on at least 1 health and/or QOL outcome in samples comprised of >50% adolescent cancer survivors. Results: From the 2249 articles identified, 2 CCTs met the predetermined eligibility criteria and were included in this review. Combined, 28 adolescents (of 41 participants) who were receiving active treatment participated in the 2 studies reviewed. A total of 4 health and QOL outcomes (ie, bone mass, fatigue, grip strength, QOL) were assessed pre- and post-PA intervention. Conclusions: On the basis of the 2 studies reviewed, PA appears to be safe and feasible. PA also shows promise to mitigate reductions in bone mass and might be a viable strategy to improve fatigue, grip strength, and QOL. High-quality controlled trials with larger samples exclusively comprised of adolescent cancer survivors that assess a wide range of outcomes are needed to determine the effects of PA on health and QOL outcomes in this population.

  • Source:, CC0 Public domain; modified with image from authors.

    eHealth for Breast Cancer Survivors: Use, Feasibility and Impact of an Interactive Portal


    Background: MijnAVL is an interactive portal including patient education, overview of appointments, access to the electronic medical records (EMR), patient-reported outcomes, plus feedback and physical activity support. Objective: With this study we aimed to evaluate the use, feasibility, and impact of MijnAVL among breast cancer survivors. Methods: We included survivors currently or recently treated with curative intent, who completed questions on sociodemographics, patient activation (PAM), quality of life (SF-36), and physical activity (IPAQ). MijnAVL could be used noncommittally for four months. Log data were collected retrospectively and participants completed questions on acceptability, satisfaction, and the PAM, SF-36 and IPAQ. Results: Ninety-two women (mean age 49.5 years, 59% on-treatment) participated, with a mean number of logins of 8.7. Overview of appointments (80% of participants) and access to the EMR (90%) were most frequently used and most highly valued. Average website user satisfaction was 3.8 on a 5-point scale. Although participants reported having more knowledge and experiencing more control of their situation after using MijnAVL, PAM scores did not change significantly. Three domains of the SF-36 (role functioning - emotional, mental health, and social functioning) and median vigorous physical activity improved significantly over time. The burden of MijnAVL for professionals was limited. Conclusions: User experiences were positive and exposure to MijnAVL was accompanied by improvements in three quality of life domains and vigorous physical activity. Tailored features may be needed to enhance the usefulness and efficacy of MijnAVL. Research with a controlled design is needed to confirm our findings.

  • Image Source: Produce Department, copyright Anthony Albright,,
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution cc-by 2.0

    Pilot and Feasibility Test of a Mobile Health-Supported Behavioral Counseling Intervention for Weight Management Among Breast Cancer Survivors


    Background: Health behavior and weight management interventions for cancer survivors have the potential to prevent future cancer recurrence and improve long-term health; however, their translation can be limited if the intervention is complex and involves high participant burden. Mobile health (mHealth) offers a delivery modality to integrate interventions into daily life routines. Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of a one-group trial with a pre-post evaluation design on engagement (use and acceptability), physiological (weight), behavioral (diet and physical activity), and other secondary outcomes. Methods: The 10-week intervention consisted of mHealth components (self-monitoring of selected diet behaviors via daily text messages, wireless devices to automatically track weight and steps) and 4 motivational interviewing–based technology-assisted phone sessions with a nonprofessionally trained counselor. Participants were overweight breast cancer survivors who had completed treatment and owned a smartphone. Weight was measured objectively; diet and physical activity were measured with brief self-reported questionnaires. Results: Ten women participated; they had a mean age of 59 years (SD 6), 50% belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group, 50% had some college or less, and 40% reported using Medicaid health insurance. Engagement was high: out of 70 days in total, the mean number of days recording steps via the wristband pedometer was 64 (SD 7), recording a weight via the scale was 45 (SD 24), and responding to text messages was 60 (SD 13); 100% of participants completed all 4 calls with the counselor. Most (90%) were very likely to participate again and recommend the program to others. Mean weight in pounds decreased (182.5 to 179.1, mean change −3.38 [SD 7.67]), fruit and vegetable daily servings increased (2.89 to 4.42, mean change 1.53 [SD 2.82]), and self-reported moderate physical activity increased in metabolic equivalent of task (MET) minutes per week (2791 to 3336, mean change 545 [SD 1694]). Conclusions: Findings support the conduct of a fully powered trial to evaluate the efficacy of mHealth as a feasible intervention modality for breast cancer survivors. Future research should employ accelerometer-based physical activity assessment and consider development of an all-in-one app to integrate devices, messaging, and educational content and other mHealth approaches to support behavioral counselors conducting weight management interventions. Trial Registration: NCT02387671; (Archived by WebCite at

  • Image Source: google tabletas, copyright Esther Vargas,,
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    “Googling” for Cancer: An Infodemiological Assessment of Online Search Interests in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United...


    Background: The infodemiological analysis of queries from search engines to shed light on the status of various noncommunicable diseases has gained increasing popularity in recent years. Objective: The aim of the study was to determine the international perspective on the distribution of information seeking in Google regarding “cancer” in major English-speaking countries. Methods: We used Google Trends service to assess people’s interest in searching about “Cancer” classified as “Disease,” from January 2004 to December 2015 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Then, we evaluated top cities and their relative search volumes (SVs) and country-specific “Top searches” and “Rising searches.” We also evaluated the cross-country correlations of SVs for cancer, as well as rank correlations of SVs from 2010 to 2014 with the incidence of cancer in 2012 in the abovementioned countries. Results: From 2004 to 2015, the United States (relative SV [from 100]: 63), Canada (62), and Australia (61) were the top countries searching for cancer in Google, followed by New Zealand (54) and the United Kingdom (48). There was a consistent seasonality pattern in searching for cancer in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Baltimore (United States), St John’s (Canada), Sydney (Australia), Otaika (New Zealand), and Saint Albans (United Kingdom) had the highest search interest in their corresponding countries. “Breast cancer” was the cancer entity that consistently appeared high in the list of top searches in all 5 countries. The “Rising searches” were “pancreatic cancer” in Canada and “ovarian cancer” in New Zealand. Cross-correlation of SVs was strong between the United States, Canada, and Australia (>.70, P<.01). Conclusions: Cancer maintained its popularity as a search term for people in the United States, Canada, and Australia, comparably higher than New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The increased interest in searching for keywords related to cancer shows the possible effectiveness of awareness campaigns in increasing societal demand for health information on the Web, to be met in community-wide communication or awareness interventions.

  • Image Source: cancer-390322_1920.jpg, courtesy of Pixabay, [Public Domain,
 ], via

    Predictors of Online Cancer Prevention Information Seeking Among Patients and Caregivers Across the Digital Divide: A Cross-Sectional, Correlational Study

    Authors List:


    Background: The digital divide is a recognized public health problem caused by social determinants that exacerbate health disparities. Despite the “tectonic shift” in how most of the public obtains cancer information, underserved communities are at increased risk of being digitally marginalized. However, research that examines factors underlying eHealth information seeking in diverse health contexts is lacking. Objective: The aim of this paper is to explore preferences and use of eHealth cancer prevention information (CPI) among patients and caregivers attending a minority-serving oncology clinic using the comprehensive model of information seeking as a theoretical framework. Specifically, the study examined the role of social determinants and prevention orientation in differences in preference and use of the Internet for CPI seeking among this diverse sample. Methods: Survey methodology was used to identify social determinants and behavioral factors, including prevention orientation as correlates and predictors of respondents’ (n=252) preferences and use of eHealth for CPI seeking. Results: Less than half (112/252, 44.4%) of respondents said that if faced with the need to seek CPI, they would seek this information online. In the final logistic regression model, education, ethnicity, age, and prevention orientation made significant contributions to the model (P<.05). Specifically, for each year increase in age, participants were 3% less likely to use the Internet for CPI seeking (P=.011). Compared to college graduates, respondents who did not complete high school were 11.75 times less likely to cite the Internet as a CPI carrier (P<.001) and those with a high school education were 3 times (2.99, P=.015) less likely. In addition, the odds that a Spanish speaker would cite the Internet as a CPI carrier were one-fifth (22%) of non-Hispanic whites (P=.032) and about one-quarter (26%) of English-speaking Latinos (P=.036). Finally, with each one point increase on the prevention orientation scale, respondents were 1.83 times less likely to cite online CPI seeking (P=.05). Conclusions: Social determinants to health have profound influence on eHealth CPI seeking. Providers and policy makers should focus on meeting patients and family members’ CPI needs following diagnosis and increase eHealth accessibility and availability of evidence-based CPI to diverse populations. Future research is needed to unravel further differences in eHealth CPI seeking, including those among Native Americans that emerged as an additional digitally underserved racial/ethnic group. Finally, additional factors underlying these differences should be explored to better tailor CPI eHealth information to diverse communities’ information needs.

  • Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at Published on 11 April 2015 Stock photo - Image ID: 100320775;

    Interest in Health Behavior Intervention Delivery Modalities Among Cancer Survivors: A Cross-Sectional Study


    Background: Effective, broad-reaching channels are important for the delivery of health behavior interventions in order to meet the needs of the growing population of cancer survivors in the United States. New technology presents opportunities to increase the reach of health behavior change interventions and therefore their overall impact. However, evidence suggests that older adults may be slower in their adoption of these technologies than the general population. Survivors’ interest for more traditional channels of delivery (eg, clinic) versus new technology-based channels (eg, smartphones) may depend on a variety of factors, including demographics, current health status, and the behavior requiring intervention. Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the factors that predict cancer survivors’ interest in new technology-based health behavior intervention modalities versus traditional modalities. Methods: Surveys were mailed to 1871 survivors of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer. Participants’ demographics, diet and physical activity behaviors, interest in health behavior interventions, and interest in intervention delivery modalities were collected. Using path analysis, we explored the relationship between four intervention modality variables (ie, clinic, telephone, computer, and smartphone) and potential predictors of modality interest. Results: In total, 1053 respondents to the survey (56.3% response rate); 847 provided complete data for this analysis. Delivery channel interest was highest for computer-based interventions (236/847, 27.9% very/extremely interested) and lowest for smartphone–based interventions (73/847, 8.6%), with interest in clinic-based (147/847, 17.3%) and telephone-delivered (143/847, 16.9%) falling in between. Use of other technology platforms, such as Web cameras and social networking sites, was positively predictive of interest in technology-based delivery channels. Older survivors were less likely to report interest in smartphone–based diet interventions. Physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, weight status, and age moderated relationships between interest in targeted intervention behavior and modality. Conclusions: This study identified several predictors of survivor interest in various health behavior intervention delivery modalities. Overall, computer-based interventions were found to be most acceptable, while smartphones were the least. Factors related to survivors’ current technology use and health status play a role in their interest for technology-based intervention versus more traditional delivery channels. Future health behavior change research in this population should consider participants’ demographic, clinical, and lifestyle characteristics when selecting a delivery channel. Furthermore, current health behavior interventions for older cancer survivors may be best delivered over the Internet. Smartphone interventions may be feasible in the future following further adoption and familiarization by this particular population.

  • Mock-up of a personal home page (after participants have logged in).

    Needs and Preferences of Partners of Cancer Patients Regarding a Web-Based Psychological Intervention: A Qualitative Study


    Background: Evidence-based, easily accessible, supportive interventions for partners of cancer patients are limited, despite the fact that they often suffer from diminished emotional, social, physical, and relational functioning. To develop a new intervention that will fit their demands, it is important to consult potential users. Objective: To examine partners’ interest in a Web-based psychological intervention and to identify their needs and wishes regarding such an intervention. Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with 16 partners of cancer patients, who varied in terms of age, gender, education, employment, type, and stage of disease. Partners were asked (1) whether they would use a psychological Web-based intervention and which preconditions (maximum time, structure, participate alone or with their partner) it should meet; (2) which functionalities (information, peer support, online psychological counseling) the intervention should contain; and (3) which topics (eg, taking care of oneself) should be addressed. Data were coded by 2 coders independently. Results: The need for a Web-based intervention varied. Arguments for being interested in a Web-based intervention included the need for acknowledgement; the need for someone they could talk to; and the need for information, tips, and support. Based on their experiences as a partner of a cancer patient, participants would prefer an intervention that is not too time-consuming (about 1-2 hours a week) and which is based on a “step-by-step” approach, meaning that the content of the intervention should match the stage of their partner’s disease. Also, they would prefer a positive approach, which means that the intervention should be a source of hope and energy. Most participants stated that they would prefer to participate without their ill spouse, because they do not want to burden their partners with their own problems. An intervention should contain information and optional peer support. Participants’ opinions about online psychological counseling in the intervention were divided. Arguments for online psychological counseling were that a professional could check on them and they were able to ask questions. Arguments against online counseling were that partners were not in need for guidance or they had enough support from usual care. Topics with the highest priority were “coping with feelings and emotions,” “should I or shouldn’t I spare my partner?,” “communicating with each other,” “asking for help and refusing help,” and “moving on with life after cancer treatment.” Furthermore, participants suggested additional topics of “dare to enjoy” and “acceptance of the patient’s disease.” Conclusions: A Web-based intervention can be a valuable addition to existing support initiatives for partners of cancer patients. This study provides important information about the content and form of such an intervention. Flexibility and a positive approach seem to be the most important features.

  • DCOG LATER (Copyright DCOG LATER study group).

    Effect of Web-Based Versus Paper-Based Questionnaires and Follow-Up Strategies on Participation Rates of Dutch Childhood Cancer Survivors: A Randomized...


    Background: Questionnaires are widely used in survey research, especially in cohort studies. However, participation in questionnaire studies has been declining over the past decades. Because high participation rates are needed to limit the risk of selection bias and produce valid results, it is important to investigate invitation strategies which may improve participation. Objectives: The purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of Web-based versus paper-based questionnaires on participation rates in a questionnaire survey on late effects among childhood cancer survivors (CCSs). Methods: A total of 750 CCSs were randomized across 3 study arms. The initial invitation in study arms 1 and 2 consisted of a Web-based questionnaire only, whereas in study arm 3 this invitation was complemented with a paper-based version of the questionnaire. The first postal reminder, sent to the nonresponding CCSs in all 3 study arms, consisted of either a reminder letter only (study arms 1 and 3) or a reminder letter complemented with a paper-based questionnaire (study arm 2). The second postal reminder was restricted to CCSs in study arms 1 and 2, with only those in study arm 1 also receiving a paper-based questionnaire. CCSs in study arm 3 received a second reminder by telephone instead of by mail. In contrast to CCSs in study arm 3, CCSs in study arms 1 and 2 received a third reminder, this time by telephone. Results: Overall, 58.1% (436/750) of the CCSs participated in the survey. Participation rates were equal in all 3 study arms with 57.4% (143/249) in arm 1, 60.6% (152/251) in arm 2, and 56.4% (141/250) in arm 3 (P=.09). Participation rates of CCSs who received an initial invitation for the Web-based questionnaire only and CCSs who received an invitation to complete either a paper-based or Web-based questionnaire did not differ (P=.55). After the first postal reminder, participation rates of CCSs invited for the Web-based questionnaire only also did not differ compared with CCSs invited for both the Web-based and paper-based questionnaires (P=.48). In general, CCSs preferred the paper-based over the Web-based questionnaire, and those completing the paper-based questionnaire were more often unemployed (P=.004) and lower educated (P<.001). Conclusion: Invitation strategies offering a Web-based questionnaire without a paper-based alternative at first invitation can be used without compromising participation rates of CCS. Offering the choice between paper- and Web-based questionnaires seems to result in the highest accrual participation rate. Future research should look into the quality of the data delivered by both questionnaires filled in by respondents themselves. Trial Registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN): 84711754; (Archived by WebCite at

  • Collage of screenshots from the Active Nova Scotia PA program (Image created by authors who hold the copyright).
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    Feasibility and Preliminary Efficacy of an Online Intervention to Increase Physical Activity in Nova Scotian Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial


    Background: Physical activity (PA) behavior change interventions among cancer survivors have used face-to-face, telephone, email, and print-based methods. However, computer-tailored, Internet-delivered programs may be a more viable option to achieve PA behavior change. Objective: The objective of this study is to test the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of a Web-based PA behavior change program among cancer survivors. Methods: Nova Scotian cancer survivors (N=415) who previously expressed interest in a research study were approached. Interested participants were asked to complete an online assessment of PA and quality of life (QOL) before being randomized to either a theory-based PA behavior change program using the PA tracking website UWALK (UCAN; n=48) or usual care (UC; n=47). After the intervention (9 weeks), participants completed another online assessment of PA and QOL as well as measures to evaluate the program and website. Descriptive analyses from surveys and Web analytic software were used to assess feasibility and mean change scores were used to test efficacy. Results: Of all contacted survivors, 95 (22.3%, 95/415) completed baseline measures and were randomized with 84 (88%, 84/95) completing the 9-week assessment. The behavior change program and website were rated highly on the satisfaction items. Average logins were 10.3 (1.1 per week) and 26.0% (111/432) of the weekly modules were completed. Most participants (71%, 29/41) indicated they were more aware of their daily PA levels and 68% (28/41) found the site easily navigable. Adjusted group differences in total exercise minutes favored the UCAN group by an increase of 42 minutes (95% CI -65 to 150; P=.44, d=0.17). Results were more pronounced, though still nonsignificant, among those not meeting guidelines at baseline where UCAN increased PA by 52 minutes compared to a decrease of 15 minutes in UC (adjusted between group difference=75, 95% CI -95 to 244; P=.38, d=0.27). Conclusions: We found that Internet-delivery may be a feasible alternative to more costly methods to promote PA among Nova Scotian cancer survivors. Moreover, there was a trend toward increased PA among those in the UCAN group, especially among those who were not meeting PA guidelines at baseline. Future research should focus on recruiting inactive cancer survivors and engaging them in the website to determine the optimal potential of Web-based interventions for promoting PA in cancer survivors.

  • (cc) Fissler et al. CC-BY-SA 2.0, please cite as (

    The Impact of Advice Seekers’ Need Salience and Doctors’ Communication Style on Attitude and Decision Making: A Web-Based Mammography Consultation Role Play


    Background: Patients and advice seekers come to a medical consultation with typical needs, and physicians require adequate communication skills in order to address those needs effectively. It is largely unclear, however, to what extent advice seekers’ attitudes toward a medical procedure or their resulting decisions are influenced by a physician’s communication that ignores or explicitly takes these needs into account. Objective: This experimental study tested how advice seekers’ salient needs and doctor’s communication styles influenced advice seekers’ attitudes toward mammography screening and their decision whether or not to participate in this procedure. Methods: One hundred women (age range 20-47 years, mean 25.22, SD 4.71) participated in an interactive role play of an online consultation. During the consultation, a fictitious, program-controlled physician provided information about advantages and disadvantages of mammography screening. The physician either merely communicated factual medical information or made additional comments using a communication style oriented toward advice seekers’ typical needs for clarity and well-being. Orthogonal to this experimental treatment, participants’ personal needs for clarity and for well-being were either made salient before or after the consultation with a needs questionnaire. We also measured all participants’ attitudes toward mammography screening and their hypothetical decisions whether or not to participate before and after the experiment. Results: As assumed, the participants expressed strong needs for clarity (mean 4.57, SD 0.42) and for well-being (mean 4.21, SD 0.54) on 5-point Likert scales. Making these needs salient or not revealed significant interaction effects with the physician’s communication style regarding participants’ attitude change (F1,92=7.23, P=.009, η2=.073) and decision making (F1,92=4.43, P=.038, η2=.046). Those participants whose needs were made salient before the consultation responded to the physician’s communication style, while participants without salient needs did not. When the physician used a need-oriented communication style, those participants with salient needs had a more positive attitude toward mammography after the consultation than before (mean 0.13, SD 0.54), while they changed their attitude in a negative direction when confronted with a purely fact-oriented communication style (mean −0.35, SD 0.80). The same applied to decision modification (need-oriented: mean 0.10, SD 0.99; fact-oriented: mean −0.30, SD 0.88). Conclusions: The findings underline the importance of communicating in a need-oriented style with patients and advice seekers who are aware of their personal needs. Ignoring the needs of those people appears to be particularly problematic. So physicians’ sensitivity for advice seekers’ currently relevant needs is essential.

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