Publications by authors named "Mark Aakhus"

3 Publications

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Improving prognosis communication for patients facing complex medical treatment: A user-centered design approach.

Int J Med Inform 2020 09 22;141:104147. Epub 2020 May 22.

School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University, United States. Electronic address:

Background: The understanding and processing of numerical prognostic information can be challenging for patients who suffer from disease and the stress of a diagnosis.

Objective: This paper investigates how patients diagnosed with Leukemia respond to different graph representations of prognosis information.

Methods: We conducted a user-centered design process, for which three experimental prototypes (vertical, horizontal, and pie charts) with and without animation were developed. Twelve patients diagnosed with Leukemia were recruited to evaluate the prototypes using a think-aloud interview protocol.

Results: The results showed a preference for vertical bar charts over horizontal and pie charts. In addition, we found that animating the charts to "fill-up" generally conveyed a subtle sense of positivity even when diagnosis information was negative. The value of explicitly indicating numeric values and scale varied but the results suggest that what matters to participants is having control over when such details would be seen. The results also point out that making sense of prognostic information involves balancing the tension between information utility and patient judgments about authenticity and credibility of prognosis information.

Conclusion: Our findings are important for the design and implementation of representations of prognostic information. They suggest that an appropriate visual format can reduce potential negative effects in conveying prognosis information, as well as helping patients stay positive and motivated for cure in the delivery of prognosis information.
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September 2020

Crafting interactivity for stakeholder engagement: transforming assumptions about communication in science and policy.

Mark Aakhus

Health Phys 2011 Nov;101(5):531-5

Department of Communication, School of Communication & Information, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA.

The International Radiation Protection Association's guiding principles for stakeholder engagement focus on fostering, facilitating, and enabling interaction among stakeholders that is inclusive and fosters competent decision making. Implicit in these standards is a call to cultivate knowledge and competence in designing communication for stakeholder engagement among radiation protection professionals. Communication as design is an approach to risk communication in science and policy that differs from, yet complements, the more well-known communication practices of informing and persuading. Design focuses on the recurring practical problem faced by professionals in making communication possible among stakeholders where it has otherwise been difficult, impossible, or even unimagined. The knowledge and competence associated with design involves principles for crafting interactivity across a variety of mediated and non-mediated encounters among stakeholders. Risk communication can be improved by cultivating expertise in scalable communication design that embraces the demands of involvement without abandoning the need for competence in science and policy communication.
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November 2011

Using an online forum to encourage reflection about difficult conversations in medicine.

Patient Educ Couns 2010 Apr 29;79(1):83-6. Epub 2009 Aug 29.

Center for Communication and Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, USA.

Objective: Medical students encounter many challenging communication situations during the clinical clerkships. We created the Difficult Conversations Online Forum (DC Forum) to give students an opportunity to reflect, debrief, and respond to one another about their experiences.

Methods: The DC Forum is a web-based application with structured templates for student posts and responses, along with a mechanism for faculty feedback. It became a required part of the curriculum for third-year medical students in 2003. We content analyzed data collected during the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 academic years (N=315). All open-ended responses were coded by two members of the research team; the few disagreements were resolved via discussion.

Results: While posts addressed a wide range of topics, more than one-third (35.6%) of students addressed delivering bad news. Nearly half (49.4%) of the students reported they had talked with someone about their difficult conversation, most frequently a resident physician; the suggestions they received varied in terms of helpfulness. Only a small percentage of students (4.7%) reported accessing other resources.

Conclusion: The DC Forum provides a template that encourages reflection and dialogue about challenging communication situations. The online design is feasible, and enables a virtual discussion that can be joined by students regardless of their clerkship schedule or clinical site.

Practice Implications: A structured approach for reflection and a simple, safe mechanism for feedback are essential components of the learning process regarding difficult conversations. While the DC Forum was created for medical students, the online approach may prove useful across the continuum of medical education.
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April 2010