Do Support Groups Empower Patients?

August 4, 2014
Lisa Schulmeister, MN, RN, ACNS-BC, OCN , FAAN

Two studies suggest that they do.

There are a plethora of support groups for people in cancer. Some of these groups are age-specific (e.g. pediatric, adult), some are offered in non-healthcare settings (e.g. community groups, online groups), and many are disease-focused (e.g. breast cancer, prostate cancer). Most support group facilitators tell participants that these groups inform, empower, and support patients and their families, but there is little outcome data about these groups. Most often, participants are given an evaluation form asking if the meeting dates and times are good, is parking sufficient, etc.

Canadian researchers published two studies ahead of print in the July 2, 2014 issue of Cancer that used the Health Education Impact Questionnaire (heiQ) as a tool for measuring the impact of support programs on patients' feelings of empowerment. The first study validated the heiQ tool and the second used the heiQ to determine if current evaluation tools used by the Cancer Council Victoria and Canadian Cancer Society captured patients' sense of empowerment.

The researchers confirmed the heiQ tool’s validity and found that the tool was able to measure key elements of patient empowerment, such as social integration, constructive attitudes and approaches, communication skills and techniques, and managing emotional distress. The tool can be used to evaluate support groups to help ensure that the content and delivery of these groups is in fact boosting patient empowerment and are helping patients feel more in control over their illness, more confident about seeking support and are more proficient at navigating the healthcare system.