Online Support Groups

“An investigation into the empowerment effects of using online support groups and how this affects health professional/patient communication”

The researchers investigated the impact of online patient support groups in encouraging patient empowerment and the affects of the patient/health professional dynamic. The researchers concluded that there was a potential of online support groups to produce empowerment outcomes for users, and that the users reported a positive reaction to information shared online by their healthcare providers.

During the study, the researchers found past evidence of efficacy when looking at factors including improved emotional quality of life, hope, and negative reactions to pain, which suggests that online support groups could improve general well-being. The study found that 246 participants of 33 online support groups reported feeling better informed, enhanced social well-being, improved confidence in their treatments, enhanced self-esteem, feeling more confident in the relationship with their physician, improved acceptance of their illness, and a slight increased optimism and control over the future. The most commonly found empowerment outcome was users feeling better informed, which supports the aim of the current projects goal of increasing patient education to promote improved self-management of care.

The most commonly found empowerment process was comparison with other members, closely followed by the occurrence of helping others, sharing experiences, and exchanging information. When combined with the previous findings regarding outcomes, this would suggest that these processes can have a very positive impact on informing patients. These findings supported the view that “it is not only finding the information that serves to empower users, but also how it is presented.” The authors noted that the benefits of participating in online support groups made the users feel better prepared for medical consultations, and felt more informed about their specific symptoms, treatments, and overall illness.

This study was restricted to online support groups that focused on users who suffered from chronic illness, but the authors noted that their findings suggest that the benefits of online patient support groups could be applied to other conditions. The authors conclude that medical professionals should consider introducing patients to online support groups as part of a more patient centered approach to healthcare and disease management.

Reference:

Bartlett, Y. K., & Coulson, N. S. (2011). An investigation into the empowerment effects of using online support groups and his this affects health professional/patient communication. Patient Education and Counseling, 83, 113-119.

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