Background: Patients often seek other patients' experiences with the disease. The Internet provides a wide range of opportunities to share and learn about other people's health and illness experiences via blogs or patient-initiated online discussion groups. There also exists a range of medical information devices that include experiential patient information. However, there are serious concerns about the use of such experiential information because narratives of others may be powerful and pervasive tools that may hinder informed decision making. The international research network DIPEx (Database of Individual Patients' Experiences) aims to provide scientifically based online information on people's experiences with health and illness to fulfill patients' needs for experiential information, while ensuring that the presented information includes a wide variety of possible experiences.
Objective: The aim is to evaluate the colorectal cancer module of the German DIPEx website krankheitserfahrungen.de with regard to self-efficacy for coping with cancer and patient competence.
Methods: In 2015, a Web-based randomized controlled trial was conducted using a two-group between-subjects design and repeated measures. The study sample consisted of individuals who had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer within the past 3 years or who had metastasis or recurrent disease. Outcome measures included self-efficacy for coping with cancer and patient competence. Participants were randomly assigned to either an intervention group that had immediate access to the colorectal cancer module for 2 weeks or to a waiting list control group. Outcome criteria were measured at baseline before randomization and at 2 weeks and 6 weeks.
Results: The study randomized 212 persons. On average, participants were 54 (SD 11.1) years old, 58.8% (124/211) were female, and 73.6% (156/212) had read or heard stories of other patients online before entering the study, thus excluding any influence of the colorectal cancer module on krankheitserfahrungen.de. No intervention effects were found at 2 and 6 weeks after baseline.
Conclusions: The results of this study do not support the hypothesis that the website studied may increase self-efficacy for coping with cancer or patient competencies such as self-regulation or managing emotional distress. Possible explanations may involve characteristics of the website itself, its use by participants, or methodological reasons. Future studies aimed at evaluating potential effects of websites providing patient experiences on the basis of methodological principles such as those of DIPEx might profit from extending the range of outcome measures, from including additional measures of website usage behavior and users' motivation, and from expanding concepts, such as patient competency to include items that more directly reflect patients' perceived effects of using such a website.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02157454; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02157454 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6syrvwXxi).
Keywords: Web-based experiential information; colorectal cancer; narrative information; patient competence; self-efficacy.
©Jürgen M Giesler, Bettina Keller, Tim Repke, Rainer Leonhart, Joachim Weis, Rebecca Muckelbauer, Nina Rieckmann, Jacqueline Müller-Nordhorn, Gabriele Lucius-Hoene, Christine Holmberg. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 13.10.2017.