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Understanding Information Exchange on Internet Cancer Support Groups: Information Needs, Gender Differences, and Differences in Participation between Patients and Family Members

Tamar Ginossar, PhD, Department of Communication and Journalism, University of New Mexiso, C& J Building 115, room 235, Albuquerque, NM 87131, 505-8849251, tginossar@yahoo.com

The advent of the Internet led to a process of decentralization in the publicís health information sources. In addition to official public health websites, a new phenomenon of grass roots attempts to disseminate health information on the Internet has emerged. Internet support groups demonstrate this process of decentralization, and the growing numbers of these groups indicate their importance to public health.

Although scholars, practitioners, and public health officials recognized the importance of health information on the Internet, there is a paucity of empirical data on their utilization by the public.

The goals of the current study were (a) to examine the role of information exchange in Internet Cancer Support Groups (ICSGs); (b) to reveal the health information needs that drive individuals to participate in ICSGs; (c) to identify gender differences in participation, and (d) to explore patterns of participation of patients and family members.

A quantitative content analysis of 1,245 email messages that were posted during one month to two ICSGs revealed that (a) two thirds of the email messages in these ICSGs centered on information exchange; (b) individuals utilized ICSGs to meet diverse information needs that were predominantly medical in nature; (c) more women participated in ICSGs than men, and (d) family members utilized ICSGs predominantly for information seeking, in contrast to patients who provided more information and exchanged more emotional support. Implications of these findings on the provision of health information to cancer patients and their family members are discussed.

Learning Objectives: Practical Learning Objectives

Keywords: Internet, Health Information

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Experiences of Cancer

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA