Do Virtual Communities Have an Effect on the Social Network of Cancer Patients?: Empirical Insights from Germany

Do Virtual Communities Have an Effect on the Social Network of Cancer Patients?: Empirical Insights from Germany

Jan Marco Leimeister (Universität Kassel, Germany), Karin Janina Schweizer (Microsoft Deutschland GmbH, Germany) and Helmut Krcmar (Technische Universität München, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-866-8.ch005
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This chapter presents the results of a study that investigates the determinants and effects of virtual communities on the development of social relationships within the social network of cancer patients. Influencing factors on the formation of virtual relationships and their effect in the form of social assistance are researched. Following an explorative approach, it is examined whether online communities meet their theoretical potential to provide an environment where social relationships can be established that help cancer patients to cope with their situation. The study shows that virtual relationships for patients are established in VCs and play an important role in meeting patients’ social needs. Important determinants for the formation of virtual relationships within virtual communities for patients are general internet usage intensity (active posting vs. lurking) and the perceived disadvantages of CMC. We also found that virtual relationships have a strong effect on virtual support of patients; more than 61% of the variance of perceived social assistance of cancer patients was explained by cancer-related VCs. Emotional support and information exchange delivered through these virtual relationships may help patients to better cope with their illness. Deduced from these results, recommendations for patients using online communities and providers administrating online communities are outlined.
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Formulation Of Research Questions

Background: Web-Based Services for Cancer Patients

According to a 2002 W3B study, German-language websites related to healthcare are a growing segment (Fittkau & Maaß, 2002). In 2003, 24% of the adult population in Germany consulted the internet to find health-related information (Spadaro, 2003). In addition to pure informational websites, numerous offerings exist that enable their users to interact with each other by means such as mailing lists, newsgroups or chat rooms (Bader, 2000). A study conducted by Daum and Krcmar shows that interaction services are becoming more popular on cancer-related websites: In 2001 they found that most German cancer-related websites are purely informational, whereas in 2002 they discovered that more and more websites support interaction services: 18% of the websites offer a bulletin board or an online forum and chat functionalities are included in 5% of the websites (Daum & Krcmar, 2002). These numbers show the growing importance of health-related online offerings in general and cancer-related online interaction services in the German internet in specific. All the more important becomes the question whether these offerings meet their theoretical potential to support their users in coping with their situation.

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