How user characteristics affect use patterns in web-based illness management support for patients with breast and prostate cancer

J Med Internet Res. 2013 Mar 1;15(3):e34. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2285.


Background: Frequently eHealth applications are not used as intended and they have high attrition rates; therefore, a better understanding of patients' need for support is warranted. Specifically, more research is needed to identify which system components target different patient groups and under what conditions.

Objective: To explore user characteristics associated with the use of different system components of a Web-based illness management support system for cancer patients (WebChoice).

Methods: For this secondary post hoc analysis of a large randomized controlled trial (RCT), in which WebChoice was tested among 325 breast cancer and prostate cancer patients who were followed with repeated measures for 1 year, usage patterns of 162 cancer patients in the intervention arm with access to WebChoice were extracted from the user log. Logistic regression was performed to identify patterns of associations between system use and patient characteristics. Latent class analyses (LCA) were performed to identify associations among the use of different system components and levels of social support, symptom distress, depression, self-efficacy, and health-related quality of life.

Results: Approximately two-thirds (103/162, 63.6%) of the patients logged on to WebChoice more than once, and were defined as users. A high level of computer experience (odds ratio [OR] 3.77, 95% CI 1.20-11.91) and not having other illnesses in addition to cancer (OR 2.10, 95% CI 1.02-4.34) increased the overall probability of using WebChoice. LCA showed that both men with prostate cancer and women with breast cancer who had low scores on social support accompanied with high levels of symptom distress and high levels of depression were more likely to use the e-message component. For men with prostate cancer, these variables were also associated with high use of the self-management advice component. We found important differences between men with prostate cancer and women with breast cancer when associations between WebChoice use and each user characteristic were analyzed separately. High use of all components was associated with low levels of social support among women with breast cancer, but not among men with prostate cancer. High use of e-messages, advice, and the discussion forum were associated with high levels of depression among women with breast cancer, but not among men with prostate cancer. For men with prostate cancer (but not women with breast cancer), high use of symptom assessments, advice, and the discussion forum were associated with high levels of symptom distress. However, it is unclear whether these findings can be attributed to differences related to diagnosis, gender, or both.

Conclusions: This study provides evidence that different user characteristics are associated with different use patterns. Such information is crucial to target Web-based support systems to different patient groups. LCA is a useful technique to identify subgroups of users. In our study, e-messages and self-management advice were highly used components for patients who had low levels of social support and high illness burden, suggesting that patients with these characteristics may find such tools particularly useful.

Trial registration: NCT00710658; (Archived by WebCite at

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Disease Management*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Patient Participation*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / psychology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / therapy*

Associated data