The Value of Social Media for Patients: Social Supports, Networking, and Learning in Online Healthcare Communities
MetadataShow full item record
Social media are changing the way we learn about health and illness. Yet, there is limited information about whether online healthcare communities have a significant effect on patients' health conditions, as they do in healthcare communities in the offline world. To better understand what value social media bring to patients, research is needed to investigate this expanding phenomenon--patients joining OHCs and helping each other. In this dissertation, I conduct three studies to examine this increasingly important circumstance. In the first study I proposed a nonhomogeneous Partially Observed Markov Decision Process model to examine patients' health outcome dynamics related to their online activities. The Internet provides easier and greater access to health- and medical-related information than ever before. OHCs enhance this access by providing user-generated content about firsthand experiences and various social supports that patients need. The results indicate that patients receive benefits from learning from others, and participation in the online community helps patients improve their health conditions and better engage in the disease self-management process. Whereas the public accessibility of OHCs offers great promise for patients, it also carries the risk of information overload. In the second study, I propose a model that incorporates widely examined homophily features in offline social networking studies with endogenous online network measurements to examine network dynamics. I found that individuals' preference for communicating in the online social networking environment could be explained by network characteristics and their positions in the network. Although the Internet provides the opportunity for patients to access "more people like me" in a very fast and highly convenient way, it remains unknown how effective these online social interactions are in improving patients' health conditions. In the third study, I investigate how patients use information gleaned from others' shared experiences in the online healthcare communities. The results provide evidence for the existence of social contagion in OHCs, particularly in the areas of health information seeking and knowledge creation. In sum, these investigations provide evidence of the prominent role that social media are assuming in healthcare and raise important and promising questions for future research in this field.