Abstract: The interpersonal dimension of patient forums: How patients share their knowledge and experiences in response to posted questions Antoinette Fage-Butler & Matilde Nisbeth Jensen The internet has revolutionized the way that patients acquire medical information, freeing them of reliance on their doctor; seeking out health information online is now the third most popular activity after internet searches and e-mail (Timimi 2012). This paper examines one of these sources of online information, namely, the patient forum where patients provide other patients with information and support on a particular medical condition. Whilst doctor-patient communication in the clinical situation has been the topic of extensive research, very little is known about how patient-patient communication is managed in online situations such as patient forums. The purpose of this paper is thus to address that gap by examining how patients manage the relational and informational (Step et al. 2009: 369) aspects of communication in online patient forums. Whilst a typical minimal interactional structure of the patient forum exchange is question and answer, we focus on responses to questions that have been posted on patient forums. This paper reports on the findings of a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke 2006) of an online thyroid disease patient forum that investigates how interpersonal aspects are negotiated where patient expertise is involved. We find that biomedical advice is available, often imparted through anecdotes and tips that situate biomedical information in relation to personal experience, whilst relational communication is characterized by expressions of empathy and support that emphasize the commonality of both patients’ experience. We draw on the empirical basis of the paper to discuss a number of implications for existing models of health communication which have yet to catch up with the impact of recent technological developments such as online patient forums. Keywords • Online patient forums • Patient-patient communication • Relationship formation References Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. Step, M. M., Rose, J. H., Albert, J. M., Cheruvu, V. K., & Siminoff, L. A. (2009). Modeling patient-centered communication: Oncologist relational communication and patient communication involvement in breast cancer adjuvant therapy decision-making. Patient Education and Counseling, 77, 369-378. Timimi, F.K. (2012). Medicine, morality and health care social media. BMC medicine, 10(1), 83.
Main Research Area:
Interpersonal Communication and Social Interaction, 2013