Social support online: Benefits and barriers to participation in an Internet support group for heart patients
Australian Psychological Society
School of Medical and Health Sciences
The purpose of this study was to investigate if using an Internet support group for cardiac patients was associated with reduced psychosocial risk factors for heart disease and to discover why some group members became active users and others did not. The application of the Health Belief Model to determine the predictive power of participation in an online support group makes a novel contribution to community psychology, particularly because it was developed to predict health behavior. Six measures of social support/negative affect were used to determine risk reduction. One hundred and twenty (63 males, 57 females) active and inactive members of the HeartNET online community completed a survey; results indicated that the extent of participation in the group was not associated with measures of depression, anxiety, stress, perceived interpersonal support, or social network size, but was related to ratings of the perceived benefits of using the web-based forum. Specifically, participants in online peer support groups who offer and receive support may experience greater satisfaction than those who simply observe the interactions of others. This has implications for electronic health applications, as well as for researchers and practitioners, which seek to improve the lives of those who suffer from chronic disease.