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The use of weblogs within an end of life context

Background: It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the impact that weblogs have in the healthcare industry. The hospice service though is still behind other healthcare sectors like mental health in the use of this technology. Given the growing internet use by service users, it is interesting to explore whether and how weblogs can be adopted to enhance end of life care services and promote expressive writing as research has shown that writing has a positive effect on health outcome. To date, there is no research on the use of weblogs in hospice and palliative care.

Aim: This research will explore whether there are any health benefits (both physical and emotional) experienced by the participants from blogging.  Primary interest in the investigation is to explore whether participants would use the weblogs as a form of catharsis through therapeutic and expressive writing.

Method: A total of 3 studies were conducted. Study 1 participants were hospice patients, carers and clinicians from four English hospices asked to maintain a weblog for at least 3 months, study 2 were hospice professionals in the hospices involved and study 3 were palliative care service users and providers already blogging from the North American continent. Semi- structured one to one interviews were used and the data analysed using Grounded Theory strategies and thematic analysis. Weblogs data were analysed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) program. This software identifies linguistic markers that can predict the health outcome of an individual, as the words people use correlates to their physical and mental health.

Results: Blogging participants reported a therapeutic effect of using a weblog and the LIWC results seemed to substantiate these self reported outcomes. Non-bloggers were primarily concerned with the breach of privacy and confidentiality that weblogs posed. Hospice service providers in England, UK were of the opinion that weblogs would destroy the ‘human touch’ culture of hospice care.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that the Hierarchy of Needs Theory is a solid theoretical model that can be extended to weblog use in hospice care. Policy and practice recommendations are also developed to enhance future practice.

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