First published 16 June 2022

Exploring surgeons’, nurses’ and patients’ information seeking behaviour on medical innovations: The case of 3D printed biodegradable implants in breast reconstruction has just been published in Annals of Surgery.

Its key findings highlight how surgeons and nurses prefer their information from the scientific processes they’ve been trained in but most patients really want to engage with someone who has a lived experience of using the new technologies.

“As breast cancer will impact approximately one in every seven women in their lifetime, research into how the transition is made to new 3-D printed biomaterials alternatives in breast reconstruction surgery is both topical and critical for effective health outcomes,” said Dr Whyte, lead author, behavioural economist, Research Fellow and Deputy Director of QUT’s Centre for Behavioural Economics, Society and Technology (BEST Centre)

“The current standard of breast reconstruction following surgical mastectomy involves silicone implants or autologous tissue flaps, with implants being the most common method.

“Due to significant complication and reoperation rates using these techniques, ongoing pre-clinical research aims to use tissue engineering and regenerative medicine strategies to overcome these limitations. The advent of 3D printing has allowed for the creation of scaffolds containing intricate architecture that can be modelled after a patient’s own anatomy.

“While the application of such scaffolds in the clinic is imminent, little is known as to the potential uptake of such technologies by key stakeholders, including surgeons, nurses and patients.”

To find out, an interdisciplinary study from researchers in QUT’s BEST Centre, Engineering Faculty, and School of Nursing, along with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the University of New South Wales, conducted what they believe to be the largest ever quantitative analysis of specialist surgeons, breast care nurses, and breast cancer patients.

“We found patients overwhelmingly favour information from a successful patient of the proposed new technology when considering transitioning. Surgeons and nurses instead favour regulatory body advice, peer reviewed journals, and witnessing the procedure performed,” said Dr Whyte.

“Yet while one in four nurses nominated talking to a successful patient as an information source, not a single surgeon chose the same.

“Our findings show large variation exists both within our patient group, and across the three groups.

“For example, women who underwent a type of mastectomy procedure (compared to lumpectomy patients) were more likely to choose a former patient than a surgeon for seeking information relating to a new breast implant technology.

“However, those who chose to undergo a reconstruction procedure, compared to those who did not, were more likely to prefer a surgeon for information relating to a new breast implant technology, rather than a successful patient.

“We also found older women were more likely to choose peer reviewed journal or surgical society or regulator endorsed over a successful patient as an information source and the same could be said for those with greater education qualifications and those without health insurance.

“So, while it’s great to have new and better technology in medicine and health, people need to feel they can understand and embrace it.

“Behavioural science can explore and understand what drives people to new medical technology and where they get their information about switching. Our study is a great example of applied science that brings together world class QUT researchers from STEM, Nursing and Behavioural Economics.”

The authors of the paper are Dr Stephen Whyte, Dr Laura Bray, Dr Ben (Ho Fai) Chan, Adjunct Professor Raymond Chan, Dr Jeremy Hunt, Dr Timothy S Peltz, Professor Uwe Dulleck, and Distinguished Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher

Participants in the survey were recruited from Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Review and Survey Group, a national, online group of Australian women living with breast cancer who are interested in receiving invitations to participate in research. The researchers also collaborated with the Australian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, Breast Cancer Network Australia, Breast Wishes Journey, Cancer Nurses Society of Australia, the McGrath Foundation, and Dragon Abreast Australia.

Read the full paper online: Exploring Surgeons’, Nurses’, and Patients’ Information Seek... : Annals of Surgery Open (

Main image, top row from left: Dr Stephen Whyte, Dr Laura Bray, Dr Hoi Fai (Ben) Chan. Bottom row from left: Adjunct Professor Raymond Chan, Professor Uwe Dulleck, Distinguished Professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher

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