How To Benefit from Online Health Communities
Online health communities are popular for several reasons, but how can they benefit you? Recently, research has explored how online communities, centered around common health goals or diseases, can help their members. Read on to discover how you can use these communities (like this one) to your advantage.
As humans, we’re programmed to seek community. With the introduction of the internet, this has been made possible on a massive scale. We’re able to connect with others across the globe over shared niche interests. For example, Frogspotting, a community celebrating frogs on Facebook has over 520K members worldwide. (FYI this community is truly amazing).
As fun as it is to connect with strangers over a love of frogs (for instance), communities also hold the power to influence important parts of our lives, like our health. Online health communities are an excellent example of this.
The Pew Research Center shared that 80% of Americans turn to the internet for health information. Further, 60% of these people said that the information they find on the internet affects their healthcare decisions. Online health communities are hubs of health information, especially for personal experience.
Online health communities have become potent sources of first-hand health information. This could include information about diagnosis, treatment, disease prevention, and risks. Significantly, these communities have become a place for people to gain insight from others who have similar conditions. The abundance of information generated in online health communities has the power to influence health behaviors on a large scale.
This post will explore some of the benefits of online health communities, how knowledge is shared between members, and how members have sought support and empowerment.
The Benefits of Online Health Communities
Online health communities are beneficial for several reasons. They connect you to resources and people that would not be available to you otherwise. For example, you gain access to a group of people with similar health experiences. In real life, stumbling across people with the same condition or health concerns can be rare. Additionally, you can likely find the information you need in one place.
Online health communities are a convenient way to search for health information. They’re there whenever you want to log on. Access is typically free or low cost (compared to other resources that can be pricey). Further, accessing the communities isn’t hard. You may be able to browse without registering. When you are required to register, you can stay anonymous, protecting your identity/personal information. This is particularly useful if you’re seeking information about a sensitive topic.
Within online health communities, you can search through an abundance of information. With search tools, you can find answers to your questions, personal experiences, and resources that fit your specific needs.
Best of all, online health communities operate on human kindness. People are sharing their experiences and answering each other’s questions because they truly want to help. Joining an online health community enters you into a group of people who are interested in making things easier for others.
Knowledge Sharing in Health Communities
The spread of misinformation is rampant on the internet. Anyone can post anything they want, even if it’s untrue and harmful to those who may believe it. Unfortunately, even trusted figures in highly respected positions of power can spread false information.
There are certain patterns of knowledge sharing in communities to understand. Much of the information shared in communities is via narratives (personal experience). The details of such narratives can help you assess if the information or advice applies to you. For example, if the writer has a similar condition, set of symptoms, family history, physical attributes, age, etc., the information may be more applicable then if you don’t have anything in common.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different. Suggestions about your health should not be taken to heart unless they are given by verified medical professionals. Even then, unless they have all the details, they may still not be totally accurate.
Studies have dissected what types of information people seek and value in online health communities. People tend to seek initial information about their health problem. Further, they seek support and information about where to find more resources.
So, online health communities are not a place to find an exact diagnosis. However, they are helpful in collecting information about possible health outcomes, treatment options, where to find resources, and best of all – to connect with other people who understand first-hand.
Support and Empowerment in Health Communities
The power of online health communities comes from the confidence and empowerment that people gain from participating. People often go to an online health community for answers but end up learning how to be a great self-advocate.
For example, you might improve your health literacy when seeking info about a new condition. Then, through learning what other people with your condition have tried, you can ask your doctor about specific tests or treatment options. You become less passive about your health and become a more active contributor to health-based decisions.
Studies have found that there is a positive relationship between the amount someone posts in an online community and their psychosocial well-being. So, reading information in an online community is helpful, but contributing takes it to another level!
The social support that people get from participating in online health communities has several benefits. Support can help others cope, gain self-esteem, feel belonging, and improve their competence with managing their condition. Through participating in these groups, you may begin to build a level of confidence in your ability to take care of yourself, despite your condition.
Humans are meant to be in communities. The internet has allowed us to be members of communities that span continents and unite people with commonalities. These commonalities can be anything from love of frogs to having a rare disease.
Online health communities are hubs of information shared by people who want to help others. They work to provide resources, health narratives, and connect people. Many people will approach an online health community to find initial info about their condition or set of symptoms.
Beyond finding info, these health communities offer support, education, and friendship. People who participate in online health communities become better advocates for themselves. They learn how to apply the information they find to their own situation and improve their ability to manage their conditions.
Overall, online health communities can make a difference.
In the I-Engage Community, people living with chronic pain can come to connect and support one another. Our eLearning courses aim to provide information and strategies to better live with pain. And, our forums and online support groups are a place for our members to join in discussions, seek support, and cultivate friendships.
Click here to join our community
Choi, W.S. et al. (2009). Social Media Use in the United States: Implications for Health Communication. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 11(4), 1-12. Doi: 10.2196/jmir.1249
Wang, X., Zhoa, K. & Street, N. (2017). Analyzing and Predicting User Participations in Online Health Communities: A Social Support Perspective. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(4), 1-16. Doi: 10.2196/jmir.6834
Zhang, X., Lui, S., Deng, Z. & Chen, X. (2017). Knowledge sharing motivations in online health communities: A Comparative study of health professionals and normal users. Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 797-810. Doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.06.028
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