This special issue entitled “Futures of Digital Death: Mobilities of Loss and Commemoration” explores the topic of digital death and how technologies are reconfigured by and reconfiguring social relationships with the deceased and dying loved ones as well as the larger ecosystem supporting such relationships. This Introduction article starts with an overview of the past research on digital death intended to provide a relevant context for the five papers included in this issue. Then, we reflect on how the current papers, or the present research, build on the past and can be used to address existing gaps and to inform future new research directions in order to move the field forward.
Research is needed to examine new and innovative web-based intervention delivery methods that are feasible, cost-effective, and acceptable to children and their families to increase access to palliative care services in the home and community. Our previous work included the development of a legacy intervention using face-to-face digital storytelling for children with cancer that showed feasibility and strong promise to improve child outcomes. However, face-to-face intervention delivery techniques limited our recruitment, thus decreasing sample size and potential access to broader populations. Here we present the systematic steps of the development of a web-based legacy intervention for children (7-17 years of age) with relapsed or refractory cancer and their parent caregivers. Counts and frequencies for parent (n = 81) reports on satisfaction surveys are presented and parent suggestions for future work. Results suggest the web-based legacy intervention is feasible and acceptable, with parent-perceived beneficial outcomes for the child, parent, and family. Results provide a foundation for web-based intervention development in palliative care and the implementation of a theoretically grounded intervention to reduce suffering of seriously ill children and their family members, thereby advancing the science of symptom management in vulnerable palliative care populations.
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Family caregivers of patients with cancer often spend a great deal of effort on physically and emotionally demanding work while taking care of patients. However, the majority of caregivers are not properly equipped for their role as caregivers, which may lead to increased distress in both caregivers and patients. Herein, we reviewed the recent literature (last 3 years) examining online interventions that seek to support caregiver resilience and decrease distress.
RECENT FINDINGS: Our search identified interventions involving three main themes: informational support, positive activities, and social support. These are mostly in the form of web-based tools and mobile apps targeting both usability and quality of life. Social network services are also considered in this review as a new environment for caregivers to connect with other individuals with lived experience in similar circumstances.
SUMMARY: Existing studies on online interventions to support caregivers is still at a formative development stage and pilot tests of feasibility, rather than a substantive body of randomized controlled trials to assess the impact in different user populations, or to determine specific factors that impact caregiver distress level or resilience. More research is needed to further assess the long-term effects of online interventions on caregiver stress and resilience. Also, the role of different types of social network services and new forms of interaction, such as conversational agents, has not yet been fully investigated in caregiver populations. Future research should strive to seek new modes of providing services that may present novel opportunities to enhance caregiver resilience and reduce distress.
BACKGROUND: Primary care clinics need sustainable, population-based approaches to engage patients in advance care planning (ACP). Patient portal-based ACP tools may provide an option for patient engagement.
OBJECTIVE: To increase ACP outcomes by engaging older adults through portal-based ACP tools, including an electronic Medical Durable Power of Attorney (MDPOA) form.
METHODS: Geriatric clinic pilot of a multi-modal population-based outreach strategy for portal-based ACP tools. Outreach was to patients (n = 105) who were 65 years and older with an active portal account, no cognitive impairment, and no MDPOA on file. Patients received a motivational message via the portal and, if not read within 2 weeks, a mailed postcard about the portal-based ACP tools. Primary outcome was composite of any ACP action at 1-year including 1) new advance directive (AD) in the electronic health record, 2) use of portal-based ACP tools, or 3) documented ACP discussion with a provider.
RESULTS: Sixty-five older adults read the electronic message at 12 months. Seventeen (16%) engaged in at least 1 ACP action. Fourteen of 17 engaged by adding an AD to their record. More patients completed an AD on article or brought a previously completed AD to clinic, compared with choosing to complete an electronic MDPOA via the portal.
CONCLUSIONS: Brief motivational messages about ACP via a patient portal is feasible and may increase ACP outcomes for older adults in primary care. Future studies should evaluate population-based portal outreach strategies in combination with team-based workflows to enhance patient engagement in ACP.
INTRODUCTION: Palliative care is a clinically and cost-effective component of cancer services in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Despite the significant need for palliative cancer care in SSA, coverage remains inadequate. The exploration of digital health approaches could support increases in the quality and reach of palliative cancer care services in SSA. However, there is currently a lack of any theoretical underpinning or data to understand stakeholder drivers for digital health components in this context. This project addresses this gap through engaging with key stakeholders to determine data and information needs that could be supported through digital health interventions.
METHODS AND ANALYSIS: This is a multicountry, cross-sectional, qualitative study conducted in Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In-depth interviews will be conducted in patients with advanced cancer (n=20), caregivers (n=15), health professionals (n=20) and policy-makers (n=10) in each of the three participating countries. Data from a total of 195 interviews will transcribed verbatim and translated into English before being imported into NVivo software for deductive framework analysis. The analysis will seek to understand the acceptability and define mechanisms of patient-level data capture and usage via digital technologies.
ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: Ethics approvals have been obtained from the Institutional Review Boards of University of Leeds (Ref: MREC 18-032), Research Council of Zimbabwe (Ref: 03507), Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe (Ref: MRCZ/A/2421), Uganda Cancer Institute (Ref: 19-2018), Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (Ref: HS325ES) and College of Medicine University of Lagos (Ref: HREC/15/04/2015). The project seeks to determine optimal mechanisms for the design and development of subsequent digital health interventions to support development, access to, and delivery of palliative cancer care in SSA. Dissemination of these findings will occur through newsletters and press releases, conference presentations, peer-reviewed journals and social media.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: ISRCTN15727711.
The new technologies have changed the rituals related to death: Creation of memorial webpages and of virtual tombs, celebration of death anniversaries are now common currency on the Internet. In spite of their disappearance among the living, the deceased continue to exist on the Web. They still receive messages from their relatives but also from strangers and are at the heart of discussions, prolonging their presence. New technologies have led to a new concept of time and of “where life ends.” Through the analysis of Facebook’s accounts devoted to Turkish martyrs, this article aimed to describe the new funeral rituals seen on the Internet.
BACKGROUND: In several studies, investigators have successfully used an internet-enabled PAINReportIt tablet to allow patients to report their pain to clinicians in real-time, but it is unknown how acceptable this technology is to patients and caregivers when used in their homes.
OBJECTIVE: The aims of this study were to examine computer use acceptability scores of patients with end-stage cancer in hospice and their caregivers and to compare the scores for differences by age, gender, race, and computer use experience.
INTERVENTION/METHODS: Immediately after using the tablet, 234 hospice patients and 231 caregivers independently completed the Computer Acceptability Scale (maximum scores of 14 for patients and 9 for caregivers).
RESULTS: The mean (SD) Computer Acceptability score was 12.2 (1.9) for patients and 8.5 (0.9) for caregivers. Computer Acceptability scores were significantly associated with age and with previous computer use for both patients and caregivers.
CONCLUSIONS: This technology was highly acceptable to patients and caregivers for reporting pain in real time to their hospice nurses.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Findings provide encouraging results that are worthy of serious consideration for patients who are in end stages of illness, including older persons and those with minimal computer experience. Increasing availability of technology can provide innovative methods for improving care provided to patients facing significant cancer-related pain even at the end of life.
OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of mode of survey administration on response rates and response tendencies for the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) Hospice Survey and develop appropriate adjustments.
DESIGN: Survey response data were obtained after sampling and fielding of the CAHPS Hospice Survey in 2015. Sampled caregivers and decedents were randomized to one of three modes: mail only, telephone only, and mixed mode (mail with telephone follow-up). Linear regression analysis was used to examine the effect of mode on individual responses to questions (6 composite measures and 2 global measures that examine hospice quality).
SETTING: U.S. hospice programs (N = 57).
PARTICIPANTS: Primary caregivers of individuals who died in hospice (N = 7,349).
MEASUREMENTS: Outcomes were 8 hospice quality measures (6 composite measures, 2 global measures). Analyses were adjusted for differences in case-mix (e.g., decedent age, payer for hospice care, primary diagnosis, length of final episode of hospice care, respondent age, respondent education, relationship of decedent to caregiver, survey language, and language spoken at home) between hospices.
RESULTS: Response rates were 42.6% for those randomized to mail only, 37.9%, for those randomized to telephone only, and 52.6% for those randomized to mixed mode (P < .001 for difference). There were significant mode effects (P < .05) for 10 of the 24 questions that compose the quality measures, with mail-only respondents being significantly more likely to report better experiences than telephone-only respondents.
CONCLUSION: Unlike results observed in previous mode experiments for hospital CAHPS, hospice primary caregivers tend to respond more negatively by telephone than by mail. Valid comparisons of hospice performance require that reported hospice scores be adjusted for survey mode.
BACKGROUND: Many people receiving palliative care wish to die at home. Often, support from family or friends is key to ensuring that this wish is fulfilled. However, carers report feeling underprepared to undertake this role. This paper describes the process of developing a consensus and evidence based website to provide core information to help people support someone receiving palliative care on the island of Ireland.
METHODS: The project comprised three phases: (1) a review of systematic reviews facilitated the identification of core information needs; (2) content was developed in collaboration with a Virtual Reference Group (VRG) comprising patients, carers and professionals; and, (3) subject experts within the project team worked with a web developer to précis the agreed content and ensure it was in a format that was appropriate for a website. Members of the VRG were then invited to test and approve the website before it was made available to the general public.
RESULTS: Nineteen systematic reviews identified nine consensus areas of core information required by carers; a description of palliative care; prognosis and treatment of the condition; medication and pain management; personal care; specialist equipment; locally available support services; what to do in an emergency; nutrition; and, support for the carer. This information was shared with the VRG and used to develop website content.
CONCLUSIONS: We engaged with service users and professionals to develop an evidence-based website addressing the agreed core information needs of non-professional carers who wish to provide palliative care to a friend or relative.
BACKGROUND: Caring for someone with dementia can be physically and emotionally difficult. Acting as a caregiver can make it difficult to access sources of support, particularly in the later stages of dementia. This paper reports the development and presents the targets (subject areas) and components of a prototype website to support family caregivers of a person with dementia towards the end of life.
METHODS: Adopting an iterative approach and co-production methods the development process consisted of four stages: Stage1-Synthesis of data: three sources of data (interviews, systematic review and theory) were synthesised using tabulation, to identify the targets of the prototype; Stage2-Identifying intervention targets and components: a research development group (health practitioners, a family caregiver and academic experts) met to discuss the development, using a modified nominal group process, refining the synthesis from stage 1; Stage3-Developing the intervention prototype: an outline of the prototype was developed based on stage 1 and 2; and Stage4-User testing: interviews with caregivers testing the prototype website.
RESULTS: Qualitative interviews with caregivers identified four targets for the intervention: 1) feeling prepared and equipped; 2) feeling connected and supported; 3) valuing themselves as a caregiver and as an individual; 4) maintaining control of the caring situation and being the coordinator of care. The systematic review provided evidence on how and what components could address these targets, including providing information, peer support, contact with professionals, and psychological support. Theory helped to narrow the focus within each of these targets. Active discussion with the research development group and end users provided an outline of the prototype website. The prototype website presented addresses these targets with written information, videos from other caregivers, and peer and professional support sections. The subject areas covered included expectations at the end of life, support with day-to-day caring, care planning, and communication.
CONCLUSIONS: This paper provides a detailed account of the development process of a prototype website for caregiver support. The transparent methodology and key lessons learnt from developing the prototype should help those who are developing similar interventions, across complex, progressive conditions and not just limited to dementia.
The paper is a first thorough examination of what happens to one’s emails on death. The paper demonstrates that some content of emails can be protected by copyright and transmitted on death accordingly. The paper then analyzes the contractual provisions of the main email providers, Google and Microsoft, in order to determine how these contracts, regulate the transmission of emails on death. The author finds that these provisions complicate the issues of property and transmission of digital assets and do not offer a meaningful control over the assets for their users. The paper adopts a novel focus introduced in the author’s earlier research, the idea of post-mortem privacy that is the right to privacy after death. This concept serves as an argument against the default transmission of emails on death without the deceased’s consent, whether through the laws of intestacy or by requiring the service providers to provide access to the deceased’s emails. Finally, the paper canvasses a solution which combines law and technology. It is argued that much more control should be placed in the hands of emails users. Post-mortem privacy, a potentially contested phenomenon, only accentuates the need to better account for the interests of the deceased, having in mind the volume of personal data and personal nature of emails. Therefore, an in-service solution is promoted, backed up by policy and legislation.
Online support groups are popular for peer support, particularly for uncommon or stigmatized topics including pregnancy and infant loss. We conducted a randomized, controlled, 6-week feasibility study of three groups: an anonymous BabyCenter.com loss support group, a closed Facebook loss group, or a control group. Intervention arm mothers were asked to sign on to their support sites for 6 weeks. Participants completed regular surveys, text message surveys after each log-in, and a final semistructured phone interview. Thirty women were randomized to each arm of the study. Women reported preference for anonymous groups and found it empowering to support others, although many noted an emotional cost to reading postings. Tracking usage online was a major issue despite multiple strategies to collect these data. This pilot demonstrated feasibility of a randomized trial for online perinatal support but noted a critical need for more reliable methods to track usage.
Background: The lack of consumer knowledge and misconception of services could impede requests for and acceptance of palliative care. YouTube has been widely used for health information dissemination.
Objective: To explore the availability and characteristics of palliative care educational videos on YouTube and determine how palliative care is portrayed in these videos.
Methods: Keyword search and snowball methods were used to identify palliative care videos on YouTube. A structured data collection protocol was developed to record characteristics of a video. Descriptive analysis was used to describe the video features; logistic regression was conducted to determine the association between video characteristics and number of views per day.
Results: A total of 833 videos were screened; 84 met criteria for analysis. The most prominent video styles were providing palliative care information (85%) and personal testimony (50%). One-third were uploaded by hospice/palliative care services or medical organizations, while another one-third by advocacy organizations. More than two-thirds mentioned “end-of-life” and 35% mentioned “hospice.” Physicians most frequently appeared and served as protagonists. Protagonists were primarily female (71.0%), aged 18–64 years (81.7%), and white (90.3%). Compared with videos uploaded by health care agencies, those uploaded by advocacy organizations had 6.41 times higher odds of having more than one view per day (p = 0.002).
Conclusion: Online videos may not provide accurate and appropriate information on palliative care. There is minimal ethnic diversity in terms of physician and family representation. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these videos in improving consumer knowledge of palliative care.
As digital outlets of expression become increasingly accessible, means of conveying grief and commemorating the deceased have migrated online. Online memorial websites such as UK-based Muchloved.com boasts thousands of Tributes created by the bereaved to remember the deceased. Many of these Tributes sketch out a rough picture of the person commemorated through text detailing their personal lives, professions, hobbies, and accomplishments, as well as photographs capturing intimate moments with family and community, and condolences contributed by family, friends, and community members. This article examines how stories of migration figure in this large pool of digital Tributes. We draw from Moncur and Kirk’s “emergent framework” for the study of digital memorials by analyzing 17 Tributes on MuchLoved.com, which commemorated individuals who, according to these Tributes, migrated from one nation to another. We find that the practices and conventions of memorial-writing to commemorate first-generation immigrants perpetuate narratives of exceptionality.
Journalism has taken on a new form in the age of new media, allowing anyone to not only report the news, but to provide visual proof of it, uncensored and freely available. When this visual proof began to allow people to see death in its entirety, various communities began to form to not just view these videos but to also ensure their availability and continuation. This essay is about those communities and how they operate.
BACKGROUND: A lack of public awareness of palliative care (PC) has been identified as one of the main barriers to appropriate PC access. Internet search query analysis is a novel methodology, which has been effectively used in surveillance of infectious diseases, and can be used to monitor public awareness of health-related topics.
OBJECTIVES: We aimed to demonstrate the utility of internet search query analysis to evaluate changes in public awareness of PC in the USA between 2005 and 2015.
METHODS: Google Trends provides a referenced score for the popularity of a search term, for defined regions over defined time periods. The popularity of the search term 'palliative care' was measured monthly between 1/1/2005 and 31/12/2015 in the USA and in the UK.
RESULTS: Results were analysed using independent t-tests and joinpoint analysis. The mean monthly popularity of the search term increased between 2008-2009 (p<0.001), 2011-2012 (p<0.001), 2013-2014 (p=0.004) and 2014-2015 (p=0.002) in the USA. Joinpoint analysis was used to evaluate the monthly percentage change (MPC) in the popularity of the search term. In the USA, the MPC increase was 0.6%/month (p<0.05); in the UK the MPC of 0.05% was non-significant.
DISCUSSION: Although internet search query surveillance is a novel methodology, it is freely accessible and has significant potential to monitor health-seeking behaviour among the public. PC is rapidly growing in the USA, and the rapidly increasing public awareness of PC as demonstrated in this study, in comparison with the UK, where PC is relatively well established is encouraging in increasingly ensuring appropriate PC access for all.
OBJECTIVE: To examine how Canadian newspapers portrayed physicians' role and medical assistance in dying (MAiD).
DESIGN: Qualitative textual analysis.
SETTING: Online and print articles from Canadian French and English newspapers.
PARTICIPANTS: 813 newspaper articles published from 1972 to 2016.
RESULTS: Key Canadian events defined five eras. From 1972 to 1990, newspapers portrayed physician's MAiD role as a social issue by reporting supportive public opinion polls and revealing it was already occurring in secret. From 1991 to 1995, newspapers discussed legal aspects of physicians' MAiD role including Rodriguez' Supreme Court of Canada appeal and Federal government Bills. From 1996 to 2004, journalists discussed professional aspects of physicians' MAiD role and the growing split between palliative care and physicians who supported MAiD. They also reported on court cases against Canadian physicians, Dr Kevorkian and suffering patients who could not receive MAiD. From 2005 to 2013, newspapers described political aspects including the tabling of MAiD legislation to change physicians' role. Lastly, from 2014 to 2016, newspapers again portrayed legal aspects of physicians' role as the Supreme Court of Canada was anticipated to legalise MAiD and the Québec government passed its own legislation. Remarkably, newspapers kept attention to MAiD over 44 years before it became legal. Articles generally reflected Canadians' acceptance of MAiD and physicians were typically portrayed as opposing it, but not all did.
CONCLUSIONS: Newspaper portrayals of physicians' MAiD role discussed public opinion, politicians' activities and professional and legal aspects. Portrayals followed the issue-attention cycle through three of five stages: 1) preproblem, 2) alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm and 3) realising the cost of significant progress.
To better understand the role of technology in later-life planning among older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) adults, we conducted focus groups to explore factors linked to diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Twenty focus groups were facilitated across Canada with 93 participants aged 55 to 89. Constant comparative analysis yielded four categories: (a) fear, (b) individual benefits, (d) social elements, and (d) contextual elements. Fear related to technology and fear of end-of-life planning. Individual benefits referred to technology as a platform for developing LGBT identities and as a source of information for later-life planning. Social elements were establishment and maintenance of personal relationships and social support networks. Contextual elements referred to physical and situational barriers to technology use that limited access and usability. These findings can inform technological practice and services to enhance later-life planning.