Creating a digital breast cancer support course

Breast Cancer Now offers physical support courses to people living with primary and secondary breast cancer. One of these courses is Moving Forward, supporting people once they’ve finished treatment to cope with issues such as body confidence, returning to work and managing fear of recurrence.

As a charity, we can’t provide this free service to everyone we’d like to, we can’t run one in every part of the country, we can’t pay for people to travel up to 200 miles for their nearest service and we can’t offer much desired refreshers to previous attendants because it would take away a first time space from somebody else.

As a product manager, I was given the amazing opportunity to create a digital solution to these challenges with an online tool that would allow more people to access and work through the course material from home. It’s been one of the best projects I’ve worked on in this role, so I thought I’d share how it’s going so far!

First off I had research phase, I wanted to find out as much as I could about the needs of the course, the appetite for a digital version, feedback on the physical courses that I could factor into the development and I wanted to know more about what makes a successful online learning and support tool.

After that was a prototype phase, which allowed me to check the conclusions I was drawing in my mind were an accurate reflection of what the tool should be for users, course providers, content and health information specialists.

Then it was time to make an Alpha product which we could take ‘on the road’ to user groups around the country. This was the first time everyone had the chance to see what the tool could look like and how they might interact with it as a participant of a Moving Forward Online course. We’d got a lot of things right, people valued the usability, the content and the interactive nature of what we’d created, but the immense value the users provided as they participated in our workshops and feedback sessions was context.

As digital and health professionals, we were experts in how to technically make and deliver a valuable product, but most of us knew nothing about what it was like to participate as someone who had been through a breast cancer diagnosis. With insights from users with these direct experiences, we were able to identify what we hadn’t got right yet, which means by the time we create a Beta version of the tool for the New Year, we’ll know we’ll have created something that’s not only usable and informative, but also feels safe and empowering for everyone at home who’s been through the trauma of diagnosis and treatment and is looking to understand where to go from here.

The feedback sessions highlighted the importance of connection with others who are going through similar experiences, so we added a private and moderated group to the Breast Cancer Now Forum, which Moving Forward Online participants can connect to via single signon straight from the tool.

They also highlighted the importance of having a healthcare professional available as people worked through the material and worried about issues that might affect them, so we connected the tool to the Breast Cancer Now Helpline with a dynamic prompt, which means a phone icon displays when the Helpline is open, and an email icon displays overnight. That way users are always connected to the best way we can help them at the time they need it.

We knew managing fear of recurrence was what people reported to be most worried about when they came to the physical courses, so we’d made this the first section. But we hadn’t fully appreciated what an emotional trigger the topic would be for individuals participating in the course, so we reorganised the content and the language around this to much more sensitively and resourcefully guide people through valuable, informative and empowering modules and eventually towards issues around breast and body awareness after breast cancer.

After the Christmas holidays, we’ll deploy the sprint that includes these and many other new iterations of the tool, we’ll finalise the content, agree our evaluation strategy and be ready to launch a year long Beta with a select group of live users looking for support to Move Forward after breast cancer.

I’ve loved working on this project and while I’m leaving Breast Cancer Now in the New Year, I’m looking forward to checking in with the team on how the 2020 Beta goes!

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