APH 1999, 57, 155-169:

The role of self-help groups in providing care for breast cancer patients.

E. Bruyninckx, D. Mortelmans, and E. Van Hove

Keywords: self-help groups, network analysis, health care

Quality of life and health promotion have become central concepts in medical sociological literature, constituting a transformation in the conventional health perspective. The objective of this research was to examine whether existing healthcare facilities in a region of Flanders do reflect this transformation. The structure and network dynamics of the care facilities for breast cancer patients were looked upon, with specific interest in the role of self-help groups.

Face to face interviews were carried out in a stepwise-explored population of care facilities, using a written questionnaire. Added to questions about the structure and services of each organisation, the survey also asked about their network links with other care facilities. A total of 57 organisations were interviewed.

This health care network consists of a wide range of facilities, mostly hospitals and self-help groups, and provides medical, psychosocial or material care for breast cancer patients. A typology was used categorising all facilities as "traditional" ersus "new". In the network analysis, self-help groups prove to play a key-role in the whole network as in the referral dynamics. Any type of care facility will almost certainly refer breast cancer patients to a self-help group.

lt can be concluded that the explored breast cancer care network contains elements of health promotion. lt is in fact an example of a broadened, multidisciplinary care system that exceeds the professional model and fits in with a renewed notion of empowered and self-realised quality of life.