Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Supportive Care at Leading Cancer Centers: A Systematic Analysis of Websites


March 10, 2010

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine

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Abstract

Background: With increasing frequency, patients with cancer and their family members are turning to the Internet to educate themselves about their disease and treatment options, including complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and supportive care. However, very little is known about how national leading cancer centers represent these therapies via their websites.

Methods: Simulating the perspective of an information-seeking patient or family member, we performed a systematic analysis of the websites of 41 National Cancer Institute designated comprehensive cancer centers. Two researchers independently evaluated websites, recorded CAM information, and rated quality of the websites using a 4-item Likert scale (overall, information, presentation, and navigation) with Cronbach's ?=0.97. Rating was adequately correlated between the two raters (correlation coefficient 0.8).

Results: Of 41 centers, 12 (29%) did not have functional websites with regard to information related to CAM. The most common CAM approaches mentioned were: acupuncture (59%), meditation/nutrition/spiritual support/yoga (56% for each), massage therapy (54%), and music therapy (51%). Twenty-three (23; 56%) presented information on support groups, 19 (46%) on patient seminars, 18 (44%) on survivorship effort, and 17 (41%) on symptom management clinics. Twenty-nine (29) (71%) of these websites had a telephone number available, 22 (54%) mentioned at least one ongoing research opportunity, and 19 (46%) provided links to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Median rating of the quality of websites was 50 of 100, with only 7 (17%) of centers receiving a composite score 80 (excellent) or better.

Conclusions: While a growing number of leading cancer centers provide information about CAM and supportive oncology information for patients via their websites, the quality and ease of navigation of these sites remain highly variable. Effective development and redesign of many of the websites is needed to better inform and empower patients and families seeking CAM and supportive care information.

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