Seeking and Managing Hope: Patients' Experiences Using the Internet for Cancer Care

Suzanne S. Dickerson

Marcia Boehmke

Carolann Ogle

Jean K. Brown

ONF 2006, 33(1), E8-E17. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.E8-E17

Purpose/Objectives: To describe the experiences of patients with cancer using the Internet for information and support to manage the self-care aspects of illness and treatment, including symptom management.

Research Approach: Heideggerian hermeneutics branch of phenomenology.

Setting: The interviews took place in outpatient settings in the northeastern United States, including clinics, patients' homes, and the researchers' office.

Participants: 20 patients self-identified as users of the Internet for cancer care.

Methodologic Approach: Data were collected by informal interviews that provided the narrative stories for hermeneutic analysis.

Main Research Variables: Internet use for cancer care and patient-provider relationship.

Findings: Five related themes and one constitutive pattern described patients' experiences. The themes were retrieving and filtering Internet information according to personal situation by Internet-savvy people in patients' support networks, seeking hope from the newest treatment options while coping with fear in manageable "bytes," self-care for personal illness situations with meaningful information regarding symptom management, empowering patients as partners when Internet information served as a second opinion in decision making and validating treatment decisions, and Internet as providing peer support. The constitutive pattern was Internet use as assisting patients in discovering ways to live with cancer as a chronic illness instead of a death sentence.

Conclusions: Patients with cancer are incorporating Internet use into their cancer care. They perceive changing provider-patient relationships when they participate in treatment decisions.

Interpretation: Computer-savvy patients and their personal support networks will avail themselves of Internet information, creating the need for new interaction patterns and relationships with providers.

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