Current Month 2011
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Stories Help Patients Make Health Decisions
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Stories Help Patients Make Health Decisions

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.

The findings are published in the journal 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.

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