“Can you please tell me what is going to happen?” – An online preparation tool for older cancer pati

About two-third of newly diagnosed cancer patients are aged 60 years or older. In fact, the population is aging globally: older adults are the most rapidly growing population group in the world. It is predicted that the number of cancer incidences will increase with 40% from 2007 to 2040 in the Netherlands. I hope you agree with me that it is important to improve cancer care for the older population.

Not well informed “Can you please tell me what is going to happen?” is a question I weekly get from anxious older patients, possibly diagnosed with cancer, that have no idea why they have two – or more – appointments at the hospital within one day. For a while, I thought that they were not well informed by the hospital about the appointment. However, I have come to realize that it may be the patient who is blocking out or forgetting bits of information due to the intense stress and anxiety around receiving the diagnosis: cancer.

Fast diagnostics: the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’

The clinic that these patients are visiting, works with a fast diagnostics system, meaning that patients are being diagnosed within one day. This also explains why they have multiple appointments within one day. In the morning, patients have an intake with their doctor and nurse, after which they have medical examinations such as a blood test, scans et cetera. After that, all doctors (from oncologist, to surgeons, to radiotherapists) and nurses at the clinic meet to discuss the diagnosis and treatment options for the patient. Already in the afternoon, the doctor again meets with the patient to discuss the diagnosis and treatment plan. On the one hand, this seems ideal for patients. You immediately know what is going on. However, there is also a ‘dark side’.

Older patients forget 70% of medical information

You can imagine that going through al these steps – intake, medical examination, receiving the diagnosis of cancer, and the treatment plan – all in one day can be very stressful. It probably doesn’t come to you as a surprise that older adults forget about 70% of the information that is being told by their doctor. The question: how can we help older patients to be less stressed and anxious before, during and after their consultation with the doctor, and remember more of all the information that is being given?

Online health tools for older adults

There is evidence that the Internet can effectively be used to help older patients. As seniors are increasingly using the Internet, it may be a good option to provide cancer-related information online to older cancer patients to help them prepare for their appointment at the fast-diagnostics clinic. Combining online information and personal communication with the doctor may help older patients remember important information. Hence, in my PhD project we are developing an online tool help older cancer patients prepare for their hospital appointment. With this tool, I hope to help patients move away from the “can you please tell me what is going to happen?” question. And if older patients are well informed and prepared, they may feel a little less stressed and anxious before, during and after their appointment, which may help them to remember more from what the doctor is telling them.

The next question then is, how can online information be optimally presented to older adults? In my next blog, I will discuss these questions and tell you more about the element of choice.

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