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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Texas A&M: Researchers Study Cancer Patient-Provider Use of Online Tools During Past Decade

In a new study published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, Dr. Y. Alicia Hong, associate professor in the Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences Department at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and research colleagues examined trends in online patient-provider communication (OPPC) between 2008 and 2017. This study used data from national surveys of cancer survivors in 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2017 and was aimed at better understanding changes in the use of OPPC tools and factors that affect their adoption.

The use of OPPC tools by cancer survivors remains relatively low, likely due to a digital divide among cancer survivors. Researchers examined three aspects of digital divide: socioeconomic status (age, education and income), type of internet access (dial-up, cellular or broadband), and cognitive access (trust in online information, ability to seek health information and information overload). They found that internet access among cancer survivors increased from around 50 percent in 2008 to more than 70 percent in 2017 and that similar trends existed for different types of OPPC tools such as mobile apps, social media and email, with email being the most common method by a large margin.

The researchers found that only one of the three digital divide factors, internet access, consistently and significantly affected use of OPPC. Their analyses found that cognitive access issues had no discernable influence on OPPC use and that sociodemographic factors varied in importance throughout the study period.

They also found that some cancer survivors still do not have internet access, especially those of lower income and educational attainment, who would benefit greatly from being able to use OPPC tools. Dr. Hong and colleagues note that this indicates a need to provide cancer survivors with better internet access.