Background eHealth technology has been valued as a means to improve the health outcomes of people with cancer and their family caregivers. Although the evidence on effectiveness of eHealth is promising, a gap in the knowledge-base exists regarding the lived experience and personal meaning of using supportive technology during the cancer experience. The aim of the current study is to explore the psychosocial experiences of people with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer using eHealth symptom management technology and their family caregivers during chemotherapy in an outpatient setting in Ireland.
Methods This research adopted an innovative longitudinal and multi-perspective interpretative phenomenological study design. Participants with Stage I-III colorectal cancer in the European randomized controlled trial of the symptom management technology, The Advanced Symptom Management System (ASyMS), were recruited for study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants at two timepoints i.e. while using the device and after it was returned during their chemotherapy treatment. Participants with colorectal cancer (n=3) were asked to nominate a family caregiver (n=4) to participate in separate interviews at the same timepoints. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Results eHealth symptom management technology can be an educational and reassuring tool which can promote self-efficacy and a sense of control amongst people with cancer. Similar benefits were evident amongst their family caregivers even though they did not personally use the eHealth technology. The longitudinal design highlighted how people with colorectal cancer and their family caregivers developed a strong personal attachment to eHealth technology and likened it to another person in their family. Despite initially feeling abandoned after the technology was returned, both participant groups recognised that it had prepared them to manage their symptoms independently.
Discussion While previous studies regarding eHealth technology in oncology have focused on achieving clinically meaningful outcomes, this study offers a psychological understanding of using supportive technology during the cancer experience. This research illustrates how eHealth technology can have psychosocial benefits for people with cancer, family caregivers and their dyadic relationship which surpass the intended health outcomes of the technology. This study offers a unique perspective of people’s attachment to technology during cancer treatment which has not been adequately studied previously. Findings from this research can inform future technological design, enhance oncology practice and ultimately improve the health outcomes of its users in the future.
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