Assessing Breast Cancer Survivors' Perceptions of Using Voice-Activated Technology to Address Insomnia: Feasibility Study Featuring Focus Groups and In-Depth Interviews

JMIR Cancer. 2020 May 26;6(1):e15859. doi: 10.2196/15859.


Background: Breast cancer survivors (BCSs) are a growing population with a higher prevalence of insomnia than women of the same age without a history of cancer. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) has been shown to be effective in this population, but it is not widely available to those who need it.

Objective: This study aimed to better understand BCSs' experiences with insomnia and to explore the feasibility and acceptability of delivering CBT-I using a virtual assistant (Amazon Alexa).

Methods: We first conducted a formative phase with 2 focus groups and 3 in-depth interviews to understand BCSs' perceptions of insomnia as well as their interest in and comfort with using a virtual assistant to learn about CBT-I. We then developed a prototype incorporating participant preferences and CBT-I components and demonstrated it in group and individual settings to BCSs to evaluate acceptability, interest, perceived feasibility, educational potential, and usability of the prototype. We also collected open-ended feedback on the content and used frequencies to describe the quantitative data.

Results: We recruited 11 BCSs with insomnia in the formative phase and 14 BCSs in the prototype demonstration. In formative work, anxiety, fear, and hot flashes were identified as causes of insomnia. After prototype demonstration, nearly 79% (11/14) of participants reported an interest in and perceived feasibility of using the virtual assistant to record sleep patterns. Approximately two-thirds of the participants thought lifestyle modification (9/14, 64%) and sleep restriction (9/14, 64%) would be feasible and were interested in this feature of the program (10/14, 71% and 9/14, 64%, respectively). Relaxation exercises were rated as interesting and feasible using the virtual assistant by 71% (10/14) of the participants. Usability was rated as better than average, and all women reported that they would recommend the program to friends and family.

Conclusions: This virtual assistant prototype delivering CBT-I components by using a smart speaker was rated as feasible and acceptable, suggesting that this prototype should be fully developed and tested for efficacy in the BCS population. If efficacy is shown in this population, the prototype should also be adapted for other high-risk populations.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; breast neoplasms; cognitive behavioral therapy; insomnia; mobile phones; survivors.