Stories help patients make health decisions, researcher says

June 4, 2013, University of Missouri-Columbia

(Medical Xpress)—Stories often appear in health communication in order to encourage individuals to change behaviors, such as smoking or not wearing sunscreen. A University of Missouri researcher studied how stories influence patients' decision-making when behavior change is not the desired outcome of the health communication.

"Patient stories can be very persuasive, and people tend to seek stories from others when they make health decisions," said Victoria Shaffer, an assistant professor of health sciences and at MU. "We were concerned about whether stories were appropriate in patient decision aids because the goal of decision aids is to inform, not persuade."

Shaffer and her colleagues studied how stories included in decision aids, informational tools such as videos or brochures designed to help individuals make informed health decisions, affected individuals' choices about medical treatments for early-stage . Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer can opt for either a , which involves removing a piece of the breast tissue, and , or a mastectomy, which involves completely removing the . Both treatment options have similar , which makes choosing between the two options difficult and necessitates patient decision aids, Shaffer said.

"Physicians used to be more paternalistic and would tell patients exactly what they should do," Shaffer said. "Now, more often are shared by medical providers and patients, and patients must digest a lot of complicated information in order to make the best decisions for their health. Understanding medical information can be especially challenging because much of it includes complicated terms and statistics as well as explanations of procedures."

The researchers told more than 200 healthy women to imagine that they had just received a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer. Half of the women viewed an informational video about treatment options that included statistical information as well as stories from breast cancer survivors who had undergone lumpectomies and radiation or mastectomies. The other half of the women viewed the same video, except it omitted the patient stories. The researchers asked both groups of women to report which treatment option they would choose based on the video they watched.

"Interestingly enough, we found no difference in treatment preference between the two groups," Shaffer said. "The stories didn't make the women chose one treatment option over the other. However, women seemed to like the video with stories better, and the decision aid with stories was thought to be more trustworthy and more emotional."

Shaffer said future research should examine the persuasiveness of individual stories and the contexts in which the stories appear.

"We've tried to dig deeper and characterize the particular elements of stories that might make them persuasive in one context and not persuasive in another," Shaffer said. "Hopefully, the end result would be to characterize the different elements of patients' stories and for what purposes the stories should be used."

Shaffer hopes her future work will lead to a "cheat sheet" for health communicators that would outline which types of stories to include in health messages depending on the context and communication intent.

Shaffer is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences in the MU School of Health Professions and in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.

Explore further: Digital diagnostic tools lead to patient dissatisfaction, says MU expert

More information: The study, "The Effect of Narrative Information in a Publicly Available Patient Decision Aid for Early-Stage Breast Cancer," was published in Health Communication.

Related Stories

Digital diagnostic tools lead to patient dissatisfaction, says MU expert

January 24, 2013
Health care practitioners now can access patients' data using electronic medical records, which often include information systems that assess individuals' medical histories and clinical research to facilitate doctors' diagnoses. ...

Young breast cancer patients often opt for mastectomy

May 30, 2013
A new study of young women with breast cancer has found that most chose to have a mastectomy rather than a surgical procedure that would conserve the breast, researchers will report at the 49th Annual Meeting of the American ...

Study finds gaps in 'decision aids' designed to help determine right cancer screening option

May 10, 2013
When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, timing can be everything – the sooner it's found, the more treatable it is. But when and how often should someone get screened?

Field stories can shape public policy for obesity prevention

March 25, 2013
(HealthDay)—Stories from the field can help highlight policy, systems, and environmental approaches effective in obesity prevention, according to a study published online Feb. 14 in Preventing Chronic Disease.

Obesity coverage in black newspapers is mostly negative, study finds

February 14, 2013
Obesity rates have increased dramatically in the last few decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while African Americans are only 13 percent of the total population, 82 percent of black women are overweight or obese ...

ASPS supports new legislation to ensure women are aware of all breast cancer treatment options

May 14, 2013
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) today announced its strong support of the "Breast Cancer Patient Education Act" (S. 931). This bipartisan legislation is being introduced today, coinciding with National Women's ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.