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The Life-Saving Potential of Voice Roundtables in Medical Support-Group Settings

Voice RoundTables have the potential for actually saving lives.  How could they do this?  It becomes clear if we look carefully at the day-to-day lives of those stricken with a life-threatening disease.

A single mother with breast cancer

Imagine a single mother, for example, with two children and a full-time job, who is suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer.  Before the diagnosis, her schedule is already overloaded.  Then, suddenly, she finds out she has cancer.  She is overwhelmed in several ways at once:

Emotionally:  She must face not only the possibility of her own death, but the possibility that her children might lose their mother and chief caretaker early in life.

Financially:  Even if she is insured, she must face many new expenses, plus the possible loss of income from an inability to continue working full-time.

Mentally:  She must carefully think through the many medical treatment options open to her, many of which will involve complicated scientific theories, statistical predictions of outcomes, and hard-to-understand analyses of her condition.

Logistically:  She not only must continue to meet the demands of her regular routine, but must also find time to go to doctor’s appointments and treatment sessions—while simultaneously dealing with reams of paperwork from HMOs, hospitals, and others.

At this point she will have a severe need for a support group of other women in the same medical circumstances—even if she is not naturally drawn to support groups.  She needs a support group because it may provide her with two things that could dramatically improve her health, or even save her life:

Emotional support, and
Medical information

Emotional support will be of critical importance.  It is vital that patients keep their spirits up and motivation strong in spite of the difficulties they face.

But the most important thing this young woman may receive from her support group is medical information.  In the past, support groups were rarely looked upon as a source of information:  it was expected that one’s doctor had all necessary medical knowledge.  But things are radically different today.  No single physician can keep up with the flood of new research in any given medical field.  Thus a new treatment that could save a patient’s life might be one that her physician knows little or nothing about.

Yet if she is in a group of ten other women who are relentlessly searching out information concerning their illness, one of these women may alert her to a little-known but promising new treatment, or even a cure.  Ten researchers are ten times better than one.

However, will it be possible for our breast cancer patient to tap the power of her support-group team?  How can she learn of research discovered by another member in her support group, if she has no time to attend that group?  A woman in her situation will make doctors’ appointments and treatment sessions a first priority.  After that she’ll focus on her children and her job.  But once these responsibilities are met, she may have little time left for a support group.  She may only find time to attend once or twice a month, when it would be best for her to attend two or three times a week.

The electronic solution

The solution to the problem lies in electronic communication.  Certainly this young mother’s support group will want to meet in person at times.  But with an effective electronic alternative, they can schedule in-person meetings less often and electronic meetings more often.  For example, they could decide to meet face-to-face every three weeks, but to meet electronically once or twice a week—or even every single day.  This schedule will make it easy for all members of the group to stay fully involved.  It will keep communication among group members flowing at all times.

But this leaves one crucial question unanswered.  If electronic meetings are the solution, which electronic alternative will work best for conducting a support group?  Half a dozen options are available—listed below.  Does one have major advantages over the other, or are they all equally useful?

There are four choices on the Internet side, but only two on the telephone side:

 

Internet-accessed

Telephone-accessed

Live

Private chat rooms
Group instant messaging

Conference calls

Non-live

Group email
Private message boards

Voice RoundTables

(Note:  Although chat rooms and Internet message boards usually host public "drop-in" discussions, both can be set up as private forums for private discussion—through companies like America Online.)

All of the live options are a poor choice—for an obvious reason.  It’s simply too hard to find a time when eight or ten people can be on the phone (or on line) at the same moment, especially if their schedules are not only overloaded but also constantly changing.

That leaves the three non-live alternatives.  Yet, of them, only the telephone option—that is, only the Voice RoundTable—provides opportunities which turn out to be of critical importance to support-group participants:

The chance to participate while doing other things
The chance to participate while on the move

Participating while doing other things

Purchasing a simple and inexpensive device—a speaker phone—will open the door to a hugely important advantage of Voice RoundTables:  the ability to do other things while listening to the latest cycle of Roundtable messages.  Speaker phones are now commonplace.  Discount chain stores usually sell them for as little as $12.00.  With a speaker phone, the young mother with breast cancer could listen to a day’s round of messages from the other women in her group while preparing dinner, while folding laundry, or while doing other things which she must do anyway for herself or her family.

You can’t do the dishes or change diapers while reading email at your computer.  For those with overloaded schedules, this is a major advantage.  In fact, it may be the deciding factor as to whether they can participate in a support group or not.

Participating while on the move

If our young woman with breast cancer has a cell phone, Voice RoundTables will give her even more options.  For example, she will be able to log into her group’s RoundTable discussion every evening while sitting in her car in traffic on the way home.  This is time that she does have available, and on a regular basis.  If she uses public transportation, she can listen in while on the bus.  Alternately, she could access her support group at odd spare moments during the day—for example, while sitting in a hospital waiting room.  What better time could there be to listen to supportive messages from friends?

Even those without cell phones will find that a Voice RoundTable is easier to access when they’re on the move than an Internet discussion.  When one is out and about, it is a lot easier to gain access to a telephone than to an online PC.  Pay phones abound, it’s often easy to find a private telephone you can use, or a friend might have a cell phone that you can borrow for a call.

The emotional power in the human voice

One other feature of Voice RoundTables make them a top choice as a support-group forum:  the fact that they convey the full sound and intonation of the human voice.  In support-group settings, emotional communication is of even greater importance than in most groups.  Emotions may be highly charged in a health-care discussion, and they are an essential part of the interaction.  Voice RoundTables deliver the full emotional expressiveness of the human voice.

Because involvement in a Voice-RoundTable support group is so easy, medical patients are much more likely to participate—and to participate fully, on a regular basis.  They are therefore much more likely to hear about a crucial piece of new research that could save their lives.