Designing Effective Health Education for Patients Seeking Unregulated Stem Cell Interventions

Project: Research project

Project Details


Project Summary/Abstract There are over 1,000 clinics in the U.S. marketing scientifically unsubstantiated stem cell interventions (SCIs) outside federal regulation and oversight. One major risk to patients from unregulated SCIs is the harm of being misinformed. This has led tens of thousands of patients to take an unregulated SCI resulting in physical, financial, and emotional harm. Our aging population with chronic diseases is the main target of stem cell commercials. They represent a unique group of health consumers who have exhausted conventional medical options, have a desire to control their healthcare, and are actively seeking information on the internet for non- conventional treatments. Several studies have shown that clinics aggressively market inaccurate or false information to patients where SCIs are conveyed as beneficial, cutting-edge, and safe and effective. To date, it is unclear what sources of health information patients consider credible or how patients differentiate between opposing messages such as an advertisement versus a warning. The overall goal of this line of research is to advance informed decision-making by this new group of health consumers searching alternative options for chronic conditions. The primary purpose of this study is to explore patients? knowledge and beliefs regarding unregulated SCIs, their views on the credibility of online health information, and their perceptions on the credibility and persuasiveness of online advertisements and warning messages. We will apply the results of this formative research, informed by theories of health behavior and behavior change, to develop novel messages to inoculate patients from misinformation or correct misconceptions about unregulated SCIs along with providing evidence-based information about stem cell procedures. Our three specific aims are to characterize patient knowledge, beliefs, online information seeking habits, and social networks when considering unregulated SCIs (Aim 1); explore patients? perceptions of source credibility (expert versus a person like me) and persuasiveness of video and text-based advertisements and warnings about SCIs (Aim 2); and develop and pre-test a pilot communication intervention to inoculate patients from misinformation and correct misconceptions about unregulated SCIs (Aim 3). We will use qualitative research methods to address all three aims and recruit potential participants from a unique database of patients who have called into a regenerative consultation service to find out more about SCIs for their condition. Our work is particularly innovative as it combines theories of health behavior and social psychology with patient perception data to inform the design of communication interventions to combat misinformation. Upon completing this exploratory research, we will be able to craft online messages that are salient and credible to address the unmet informational needs of this group of health consumers and help address the global health problem of unregulated stem cell and regenerative interventions.
StatusNot started


  • National Institute on Aging: $238,382.00


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