Cancer screening is an important method used by the Dutch state in combating cancer, with screening for breast cancer as a well-known example. Research has shown that women who don’t take part in breast cancer screening have an increased risk of dying compared to women who do get screened. At the same time, it appears that a significant proportion of people in the Netherlands who are invited for screening don’t actually take part in this process. So it’s important to find out how people make an informed decision about whether to be screened or not, and how they are influenced here by information from the state, through news platforms and on social media.
The important role of media in healthy behaviour
The SENTENCES consortium aims to research this relationship between news reports on mass health screening, discussions on social media on this news and the mass screening itself. Moreover, it will be analysing participation in, and trust in, mass health screening on the basis of extensive data collection in publicly available sources. According to Gert-Jan de Bruijn, lead applicant of the project, the grant award decision also shows that ZonMw (Dutch national funding organization for research on health care) is increasingly recognising the importance of media in healthy behaviour – an issue that also seems ever more important in the current corona pandemic.
Tools for focused communication
The multidisciplinary consortium is led by the Amsterdam School of Communication Research ASCoR and brings together expertise in the fields of media effects, artificial intelligence and health communication. Other important social partners in the consortium include RIVM and KWF. On the basis of this unique knowledge cluster, the participants are researching how the state and health authorities can best shape their communication to facilitate informed decision-making in a fast-changing media environment.
One element involves the development and validation of AI tools to automatically code the large quantities of media data. In addition, advanced network analyses will be used to simulate the effects of social media interventions by the state and health authorities.
These tools should enable the social partners responsible for screening programmes to respond better to public discussions and sentiment and hence to promote participation in screening. The research formally commenced in February 2021 and will continue until February 2025.