The quality of informational social support in online health communities : a content analysis of cancer-related discussions
ID Petrič, Gregor (Author), ID Cugmas, Marjan (Author), ID Petrič, Rok (Author), ID Atanasova, Sara (Author)

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Objective: Informational social support is one of the main reasons for patients to visit online health communities (OHCs). Calls have been made to investigate the objective quality of such support in the light of a worrying number of inaccurate online health-related information. The main aim of this study is to conceptualize the Quality of Informational Social Support (QISS) and develop and test a measure of QISS for content analysis. A further aim is to investigate the level of QISS in cancer-related messages in the largest OHC in Slovenia and examine the differences among various types of discussion forums, namely, online consultation forums, online support group forums, and socializing forums. Methods: A multidimensional measurement instrument was developed, which included 20 items in a coding scheme for a content analysis of cancer-related messages. On a set of almost three million posts published between 2015 and 2019, a machine-learning algorithm was used to detect cancer-related discussions in the OHC. We then identified the messages providing informational social support, and through quantitative content analysis, three experts coded a random sample of 403 cancer-related messages for the QISS. Results: The results demonstrate a good level of interrater reliability and agreement for a QISS scale with six dimensions, each demonstrating good internal consistency. The results reveal large differences among the social support, socializing, and consultation forums, with the latter recording significantly higher quality in terms of accuracy (M = 4.48, P < .001), trustworthiness (M = 4.65, P < .001), relevance (M = 3.59, P < .001), and justification (M = 3.81, P = .05) in messages providing informational social support regarding cancer-related issues. Conclusions: This study provides the research field with a valid tool to further investigate the factors and consequences of varying quality of information exchanged in supportive communication. From a practical perspective, OHCs should dedicate more resources and develop mechanisms for the professional moderation of health-related topics in socializing forums and thereby suppress the publication and dissemination of low-quality information among OHC users and visitors.

Keywords:online health community, informational support, quality of information, cancer
Work type:Article
Typology:1.01 - Original Scientific Article
Organization:FDV - Faculty of Social Sciences
Publication status:Published
Publication version:Version of Record
Number of pages:18 str.
Numbering:Vol. 9
PID:20.500.12556/RUL-144473 This link opens in a new window
ISSN on article:2055-2076
DOI:10.1177/20552076231155681 This link opens in a new window
COBISS.SI-ID:142897667 This link opens in a new window
Publication date in RUL:23.02.2023
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Record is a part of a journal

Title:Digital health
COBISS.SI-ID:526076953 This link opens in a new window


License:CC BY-NC 4.0, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
Description:A creative commons license that bans commercial use, but the users don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Secondary language

Keywords:družbena omrežja, internet, zdravje, rak, bolezen, Slovenija


Funder:ARRS - Slovenian Research Agency
Project number:J5-9336
Name:Priložnosti in nevarnosti spletnih zdravstvenih skupnosti za zdravstvo

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