AM Posters 2009 START Conference Manager    

Dimensions of Information Exchange in an Online Breast Cancer Support Group

Ellen Rubenstein

(Submission #23)


Abstract

Within the last ten years, online health communities have created new options for people seeking information about health issues and illness. Research has shown that having supportive social networks impacts health and coping outcomes in positive ways, but few studies have analyzed online support groups to the extent of obtaining a full, multi-faceted understanding of the factors that contribute to the success of these groups. The goal of this pilot study was to begin to gain a deeper understanding of the ways that participation in an online breast cancer support group functions to provide information and social support, and whether these interactions influence medical decisions and coping skills. A qualitative analysis of two months of the archives of this community revealed multiple dimensions of information exchange and social support, suggesting a framework of dual socialization into the worlds of both breast cancer and online group participation. Similar to processes that occur in communities of practice, participants enters as novices who learn the norms of the group's online communication, as well as acquire information and social support related to breast cancer. Through this process, newcomers may ultimately become mentors who then help incoming novices navigate through these experiences. As participants become more literate in the realms of breast cancer and online social support, they acquire new strengths and tools that enhance their ability to manage both their illness and online experiences. Furthermore, group participation transcends online boundaries, with members interacting through face-to-face meetings as well as other personal communications outside of the groupís confines, engaging in multiplex relationships that blend their social worlds, as well as increasing their ability to strengthen their social networks and social capital.


  
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