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Online information-seeking about potential breast cancer symptoms Capturing online behaviour with an Internet browsing tracking tool

Marcu, Afrodita, Muller, Cecile, Ream, Emma and Whitaker, Katriina L (2019) Online information-seeking about potential breast cancer symptoms Capturing online behaviour with an Internet browsing tracking tool Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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Abstract

Background:

People engage in health information-seeking online when experiencing unusual or unfamiliar bodily changes. It is not well understood how people consult the Internet for health information after the onset of unfamiliar symptoms and before receiving a potential diagnosis, and how online information-seeking can help people appraise their symptoms. This lack of evidence may be partly due to methodological limitations in capturing in real time the online information-seeking process.

Objective:

We explored women’s symptom attribution and online health information-seeking in response to a hypothetical and unfamiliar breast change suggestive of cancer (nipple rash). We also aimed to establish the feasibility of capturing in real time the online information-seeking process with a tool designed to track participants’ online searches and visited websites, the VIZZATATM browser tracker.

Methods:

An online survey was completed by 56 cancer-free women (Mage = 60.34 years, SD = 7.73 years) responding to a scenario asking them to imagine noticing a red scaly rash on the nipple. Participants were asked to make symptom attributions when presented with the scenario (Time1) and again after seeking information online (Time2). The online tracking tool, embedded in the survey, was used to capture in real time participants’ search terms and accessed websites.

Results:

The tracking tool captured the search terms and accessed websites of most of the participants (46/56, 82%). For the rest (n=10, 18%), there was evidence of engagement in online information-seeking, e.g. medical terminology and cancer attribution at Time2, despite their searching activity not being recorded. Twenty five participants considered cancer as a potential cause for the nipple rash at Time1, yet only one of these used ‘cancer’ as a search term. Most participants (n=40, 87%) used rash-related search terms, particularly ‘nipple rash’ and ‘rash on nipple’. The majority (41/46, 89%) accessed websites containing breast cancer information, with the NHS webpage “Paget’s disease of the nipple” being the most visited one. At Time2, after engaging in the Internet search task, more participants attributed the nipple rash to breast cancer than at Time1, n=37 (66.1%) vs. n=25 (44.6%), although a small number of participants (n=6) changed from making a cancer attribution at Time1 to a non-cancer one at Time2.

Conclusions:

Making a cancer attribution for an unfamiliar breast change did not necessarily translate into cancer-termed searches. Equally, not all Internet searches led to a cancer attribution. The findings suggest that online information-seeking may not necessarily help women who experience unfamiliar breast cancer symptoms understand their condition. Despite some technical issues, this study showed that it is feasible to use an online browser tracking tool to capture in real time information-seeking about unfamiliar symptoms.

ClinicalTrial:

N/A

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences > School of Health Sciences
Authors :
NameEmailORCID
Marcu, Afroditaafrodita.marcu@surrey.ac.uk
Muller, Cecilececile.muller@surrey.ac.uk
Ream, Emmae.ream@surrey.ac.uk
Whitaker, Katriina Lk.whitaker@surrey.ac.uk
Date : 2019
Copyright Disclaimer : © The authors. All rights reserved. This is a privileged document currently under peer-review/community review (or an accepted/rejected manuscript). Authors have provided JMIR Publications with an exclusive license to publish this preprint on it's website for review and ahead-of-print citation purposes only. While the final peer-reviewed paper may be licensed under a cc-by license on publication, at this stage authors and publisher expressively prohibit redistribution of this draft paper other than for review purposes.
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 18 Dec 2018 09:29
Last Modified : 18 Dec 2018 09:29
URI: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/id/eprint/850048

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