Electronic Self-Help and Support Groups

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OBJECTIVESThe authors examined the impact of a voice bulletin board on the following: (1) participation in self-help efforts, (2) expression of emotional support, (3) development of solidarity within the group, (4) utilization of health-care services, and (5) health status of subjects.METHODSSubjects were 53 pregnant women who abused drugs. A quasi-experimental design with matched control group and observations before and after intervention were carried out. Clients in the control group were asked to participate in biweekly face-to-face meetings. Clients in the experimental group participated in the voice bulletin board. Experimental subjects had previous experience with computer services. Subjects reported their level of drug use, health status, and utilization of health services. They also reported on their symptoms, attitudes toward use of physician services, loneliness, willingness to disclose information in groups, and sense of solidarity with their group. The content of the communication among the experimental group was recorded and the utterances were classified as to the type of communications. Exit interviews were done 4 months after baseline interviews were conducted. Clients were paid to complete the baseline and the exit questionnaires, and 94% completed the exit questionnaires. The dependent variables were utilization or health status at exit; the co-variate was utilization or health status at baseline; and the independent variable was the group in which the subject participated.RESULTSClients were eight times more likely to participate in the voice bulletin board than in the face-to-face meeting (alpha < 0.01). The majority of the comments left on the bulletin board (54.6%) were for emotional support of each other; no “flaming” or overt disagreements occurred. The more clients participated in the voice bulletin board, the more they felt a sense of solidarity with each other (alpha < 0.001). Members of the experimental group reported significantly lower rates of visiting outpatient clinics than members of the control group (alpha < 0.05). Lower utilization did not lead to poor health status or more drug use: There were no statistically significant differences in the health status and drug use between the experimental and the control groups.CONCLUSIONSVoice bulletin boards may be an effective method of providing support to mothers who have a history of drug use. Use of these services may lead to lower cost without worsening patients' health.

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