The effect of patient narratives on information search in a web-based breast cancer decision aid: an eye-tracking study

J Med Internet Res. 2013 Dec 17;15(12):e273. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2784.


Background: Previous research has examined the impact of patient narratives on treatment choices, but to our knowledge, no study has examined the effect of narratives on information search. Further, no research has considered the relative impact of their format (text vs video) on health care decisions in a single study.

Objective: Our goal was to examine the impact of video and text-based narratives on information search in a Web-based patient decision aid for early stage breast cancer.

Methods: Fifty-six women were asked to imagine that they had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and needed to choose between two surgical treatments (lumpectomy with radiation or mastectomy). Participants were randomly assigned to view one of four versions of a Web decision aid. Two versions of the decision aid included videos of interviews with patients and physicians or videos of interviews with physicians only. To distinguish between the effect of narratives and the effect of videos, we created two text versions of the Web decision aid by replacing the patient and physician interviews with text transcripts of the videos. Participants could freely browse the Web decision aid until they developed a treatment preference. We recorded participants' eye movements using the Tobii 1750 eye-tracking system equipped with Tobii Studio software. A priori, we defined 24 areas of interest (AOIs) in the Web decision aid. These AOIs were either separate pages of the Web decision aid or sections within a single page covering different content.

Results: We used multilevel modeling to examine the effect of narrative presence, narrative format, and their interaction on information search. There was a significant main effect of condition, P=.02; participants viewing decision aids with patient narratives spent more time searching for information than participants viewing the decision aids without narratives. The main effect of format was not significant, P=.10. However, there was a significant condition by format interaction on fixation duration, P<.001. When comparing the two video decision aids, participants viewing the narrative version spent more time searching for information than participants viewing the control version of the decision aid. In contrast, participants viewing the narrative version of the text decision aid spent less time searching for information than participants viewing the control version of the text decision aid. Further, narratives appear to have a global effect on information search; these effects were not limited to specific sections of the decision aid that contained topics discussed in the patient stories.

Conclusions: The observed increase in fixation duration with video patient testimonials is consistent with the idea that the vividness of the video content could cause greater elaboration of the message, thereby encouraging greater information search. Conversely, because reading requires more effortful processing than watching, reading patient narratives may have decreased participant motivation to engage in more reading in the remaining sections of the Web decision aid. These findings suggest that the format of patient stories may be equally as important as their content in determining their effect on decision making. More research is needed to understand why differences in format result in fundamental differences in information search.

Keywords: breast cancer; decision aids; eye tracking; personal narratives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Decision Making
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior
  • Internet*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation
  • Telemedicine*
  • Video Recording