The Power of Peers: Applying User-Generated Content to Health Behaviors “Off-Line”

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Abstract

Many patients seek and share information online regarding health, especially those diagnosed with chronic disease. The social cognitive theory is used as the theoretical framework for analyzing how members learn within online health communities. This study conducted in-depth interviews with members from online health communities related to arthritis to understand their motivation for participating in the community and how the content exchanged therein is applied to managing their disease. Four themes were identified: processing disease diagnosis, collaborating to solve problem, recognizing personal limitations, and appreciating that health is variable. Topical communication within the online communities was often tailored to members’ situational needs with the ultimate goal being better self-management. The findings demonstrate the online health community is an environment that invites members who share common characteristics to engage with one another and with the shared content for the purpose of learning arthritis self-management strategies. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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