Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Debbie Rodan

Second Advisor

Professor Lelia Green

Abstract

This health communication research examines the identity levels of the heart patient on a therapeutic website HeartNET through an empirical investigation of site interactions as manifestations of a gift economy. The thesis also explores the media’s representation of heart health in both television and print.

This research utilised a longitudinal qualitative ethnographic and netnographic approach involving twenty-six participants who completed two in-depth interviews. The first one-on-one interview occurred during the early stages of the participants’ heart journey, explored their heart story and use of interactive technology for heart health support. The second interview occurred six to twelve months later, and investigated changes in the participants’ heart health status and their media awareness. Data obtained through onsite postings, in-depth interviews, and asynchronous and synchronous interactions on HeartNET, resulted in an analysis of the rich insights into the lived experiences of people affected by heart disease.

The heart patient has to cope with an unknown and disrupted future which may be complicated by a lack of understanding by their significant other and extended network. Interactions on HeartNET indicated a change in participants’ attitudes toward their heart disease. The gift of time, information and support were commodities that were shared freely. Over time however, a change in focus was evident. As members became more independent their posts would shift to a focus on independence and healing (or wellbeing) rather than focusing on the disease.

Another key finding among the non-HeartNET members was the importance of volunteering and how it became an integral aspect of many recovering heart patients’ lives. As peer supporters this volunteering role appears to support the extension of social networks and complements professional health services.

Findings from this research have shown that the media often portrays heart disease as a lifestyle issue and the participants of this research felt the media considered they were ‘to blame’, even though the majority of them had a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle prior to their heart event. An analysis of newspaper articles indicates that the use of the Heart Foundation brand name, or a passing mention of heart disease, was often used to raise the salience of the newspaper article, particularly in terms of its title.

This research provides valuable insights into the heart patient’s journey as each individual recreates and re-identifies as a heart patient. Most importantly, this research allows participants’ voices to be heard.

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