Researchers use social media to teach parents about children’s cancer pain

By on June 26, 2016

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HALIFAX—Clinicians at Halifax’s IWK Health Centre and the Hospital for Sick Children are using social media to ease the pain of children with cancer by providing parents with the latest research through an online hashtag.

Dr. Christine Chambers and Dr. Jennifer Stinson have partnered with the Cancer Knowledge Network to digitally bridge the gap between the medical and caregiver communities.

“When your child has a condition or a disease like cancer, parents are there for the vast majority of painful experiences,” Chambers said in a telephone interview. “When they’re armed with the right information, they can be very powerful advocates.”

The interactive campaign brings cutting-edge developments in pain management out of medical journals and onto the World Wide Web where parents can access it under #KidsCancerPain.

Chambers, a clinical psychologist and professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University, said parents are already scouring the Internet for ways to make their children feel better – it’s a matter discerning the good science from the bad.

“Physicians will tell their patients, ‘Don’t Google this,”’ Chambers said. “Parents don’t know what to believe … It’s our responsibility as health professionals to make sure that when parents go looking that they find good quality evidence-based information.”

The Making Cancer Less Painful for Kids team will supply expert-vetted resources about gauging discomfort, administering treatment, addressing the psychological impact of illness and dispelling widespread myths about cancer that come up in your traditional Google search.

The Canadian Cancer Society funded the project based on the success of Chambers’ “It Doesn’t Have to Hurt” campaign, which shared content about children’s pain through blogs, videos, Facebook polls and Twitter parties, at one point, directing so many parents to a children’s hospital website that it crashed their server.

“If you have a child with cancer … you might be looking for information at three in the morning,” Chambers said. “(By) placing the information online, parents can find it when they need it, and through social media, they can engage with it.”

As a mother of four, Chambers knows no parent wants to see their child in pain. She said the key to project’s success will be getting direct feedback from caregivers to best equip them with the tools they need.

“We’ve had feedback from parents that they weren’t really sure before what role they had to play,” she said. “They used to sort of just shrink back and let the health professionals sort of deal with it. Parents are stepping up now.”