Digital transformation and online resources are changing the relationship between healthcare professionals and their patients, and the way medical care is provided. The change from a traditional paternalistic model of medical care to a relational one, focused on the needs of patients and their families, promotes the empowerment of the user, responsibility for their illness, participation and autonomy in decision making. In the near future, it is very likely that online communities or systems, which combine more levels of intervention, participation and communication, achieve better health outcomes, adherence to treatments and commitment of professionals, patients and their environment.
These conclusions have reached by researchers from the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO L'Hospitalet) and the University of Barcelona (UB), led by Dr. Cristian Ochoa. The team, which has recently published its work in the international journal Psychooncology, investigates the development of digital solutions, such as Oncommun-ICOnnecta (https://oncommun.eu/), to accompany cancer patients. To carry out this study has analyzed seventy-seven scientific articles from different databases worldwide. All of them include cancer patients and analyze the psychological and psychosocial factors associated with both the spontaneous use of the Internet by patients, as well as with the use guided by medical and psychological care professionals.
In a very short time, the Internet has gone from being a mere source of information to providing psychoeducation, personal care, emotional and social support and psychotherapy. Currently, Internet access already contributes greatly to the transformation of communication strategies and the provision of health services. In the case of cancer patients, the figures show that there has been a rapid increase in the spontaneous use of online resources in relation to health: from 8-15 % of occasional users in the 1990s and early 2000s, to the current amount of 70-97 % of patients who use it daily. In cancer, as in society in general, the use of online resources has progressed from the initial need to be informed to the need to stay connected.
Historically, changes in the availability and management of information have had a strong impact in addressing health problems. Internet has been responsible for the latest and powerful breakthrough. But “information and other resources on the Internet are not always reliable, so it is necessary for health professionals to evaluate the content, provide reliable and understandable options, and contribute to digital literacy,” notes Dr. María Lleras, clinical psychologist at ICO-L'Hospitalet, researcher in psycho-oncology at IDIBELL and first author of the work. Health professionals should commit to guide the use of the Internet, to provide specific web-based recommendations and to develop educational and intervention programs that best meet the needs of patients. As a consequence, the Internet has the power to strengthen the relationship between doctors and patients.
In areas related to health, it is especially necessary to evaluate the effective use of the Internet, at the level of impact and of possible advantages that it entails. The recent systematic and comprehensive review carried out by catalan researchers can help guide the development of future innovative eHealth interventions in order to improve the psychosocial care of cancer patients. Communities and online interventions are useful for optimizing the benefits of using the Internet, which include psychological well-being and quality of life, and reducing anxiety and the risk of hospitalization among patients.