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Decision Making When Cancer Becomes Chronic: Needs Assessment for a Web-Based Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma Patient Decision Aid

Background: In cancers with a chronic phase, patients and family caregivers face difficult decisions such as whether to start a novel therapy, whether to enroll in a clinical trial, and when to stop treatment. These decisions are complex, require an understanding of uncertainty, and necessitate the consideration of patients’ informed preferences. For some cancers, such as medullary thyroid carcinoma, these decisions may also involve significant out-of-pocket costs and effects on family members. Providers have expressed a need for web-based interventions that can be delivered between consultations to provide education and prepare patients and families to discuss these decisions. To ensure that these tools are effective, usable, and understandable, studies are needed to identify patients’, families’, and providers’ decision-making needs and optimal design strategies for a web-based patient decision aid. Objective: Following the international guidelines for the development of a web-based patient decision aid, the objectives of this study are to engage potential users to guide development; review the existing literature and available tools; assess users’ decision-making experiences, needs, and design recommendations; and identify shared decision-making approaches to address each need. Methods: This study used the decisional needs assessment approach, which included creating a stakeholder advisory panel, mapping decision pathways, conducting an environmental scan of existing materials, and administering a decisional needs assessment questionnaire. Thematic analyses identified current decision-making pathways, unmet decision-making needs, and decision support strategies for meeting each need. Results: The stakeholders reported wide heterogeneity in decision timing and pathways. Relevant existing materials included 2 systematic reviews, 9 additional papers, and multiple educational websites, but none of these met the criteria for a patient decision aid. Patients and family members (n=54) emphasized the need for plain language (46/54, 85%), shared decision making (45/54, 83%), and help with family discussions (39/54, 72%). Additional needs included information about uncertainty, lived experience, and costs. Providers (n=10) reported needing interventions that address misinformation (9/10, 90%), foster realistic expectations (9/10, 90%), and address mistrust in clinical trials (5/10, 50%). Additional needs included provider tools that support shared decision making. Both groups recommended designing a web-based patient decision aid that can be tailored to (64/64, 100%) and delivered on a hospital website (53/64, 83%), focuses on quality of life (45/64, 70%), and provides step-by-step guidance (43/64, 67%). The study team identified best practices to meet each need, which are presented in the proposed decision support design guide. Conclusions: Patients, families, and providers report multifaceted decision support needs during the chronic phase of cancer. Web-based patient decision aids that provide tailored support over time and explicitly address uncertainty, quality of life, realistic expectations, and effects on families are needed.

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