Health-Related Online Support Communities

Health-Related Online Support Communities

Neil S. Coulson (University of Nottingham, UK) and Sumaira Malik (University of Cambridge, UK)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch057
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In recent years, the Internet has provided new opportunities for individuals living with health-related problems to communicate with each other via online support communities. These communities offer many unique advantages, such as convenience, anonymity, and a diverse range of group members. However, there are potential disadvantages to their use, for example, misleading information. Within such communities, patients may talk about a range of issues and provide support to one another, particularly informational and emotional support. Through self-disclosure and empathic communication, members may feel able to share personal stories as well as help others. Whilst robust evidence for their effectiveness is lacking, there is much qualitative and cross-sectional evidence suggesting that participation in online support communities may be beneficial. However, there is a need for randomised controlled trials of pure peer-to-peer online support.
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In recent years more and more individuals living with chronic health problems are turning to the internet for information, advice and support. In particular, there has been a rapid expansion of the number of online support communities (also known as ‘online support groups’) and this rise in popularity is arguably related to many of the unique characteristics inherent within this form of communication. Researchers have begun to examine the nature of online support communities (e.g., Wright & Bell, 2003), their role in the lives of those living with illness (e.g., Mo & Coulson, 2010) as well as the activities which are taking place online (e.g., Malik & Coulson, 2010). There is much qualitative and cross-sectional evidence (e.g., Coulson, 2005) describing their impact on individuals but as yet there are few well-designed studies which have clearly tested the effects of peer to peer online communication and support. This entry will consider the current state of knowledge with regards key aspects of this growing online phenomenon.

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