Internet-Based Interactive Support for Cancer Patients: Are Integrated Systems Better?

J Commun. 2008 Jun;58(2):238-257. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.00383.x.


To compare the benefits of the Internet generally versus a focused system of services, 257 breast cancer patients were randomly assigned to a control group, access to the Internet with links to high-quality breast cancer sites, or access to an eHealth system (Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System, CHESS) that integrated information, support, and decision and analysis tools. The intervention lasted 5 months, and self-report data on quality of life, health-care competence, and social support were collected at pretest and at 2-, 4-, and 9-month posttests. CHESS subjects logged on more overall than Internet subjects and accessed more health resources, but the latter used non health-related sites more. Subjects with access to the Internet alone experienced no better outcomes than controls at any of the 3 time points, compared to pretest levels. Subjects with CHESS experienced greater social support during the intervention period and had higher scores on all 3 outcomes at 9 months, 4 months after the intervention ended. CHESS subjects also scored higher than those with Internet access during the intervention period but not significantly after the intervention ended. Thus, CHESS (with one simple interface and integrated information, communication, and skills services) helped newly diagnosed breast cancer patients even after computers were removed. In contrast, patients received little benefit from Internet access, despite having links to a variety of high-quality sites.