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Stories help patients make health decisions, MU researcher says
Date:6/4/2013

COLUMBIA, Mo. 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 psychological sciences 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 breast cancer. Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer can opt for either a lumpectomy, which involves removing a piece of the breast tissue, and radiation therapy, or a mastectomy, which involves completely removing the breast tissue. Both treatment options have similar survival rates, 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, health decisions 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 wom
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Contact: Jesslyn Chew
ChewJ@missouri.edu
573-882-8353
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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