Impact of Social Processes in Online Health Communities on Patient Empowerment in Relationship With the Physician: Emergence of Functional and Dysfunctional Empowerment

Background: Substantial research demonstrates the importance of online health communities (OHCs) for patient empowerment, although the impact on the patient-physician relationship is understudied. Patient empowerment also occurs in relationship with the physician, but studies of OHCs mostly disregard this. The question also remains about the nature and consequences of this empowerment, as it might be based on the limited validity of some information in OHCs. Objective: The main purpose of this study was to examine the impact of social processes in OHCs (information exchange with users and health professional moderators, social support, finding meaning, and self-expressing) on functional and dysfunctional patient empowerment in relationship with the physician (PERP). This impact was investigated by taking into account moderating role of eHealth literacy and physician’s paternalism. Method: An email list–based Web survey on a simple random sample of 25,000 registered users of the most popular general OHC in Slovenia was conducted. A total of 1572 respondents completed the survey. The analyses were conducted on a subsample of 591 regular users, who had visited a physician at least once in the past 2 years. To estimate the impact of social processes in OHC on functional and dysfunctional PERP, we performed a series of hierarchical regression analyses. To determine the moderating role of eHealth literacy and the perceived physician characteristics, interactions were included in the regression analyses. Results: The mean age of the respondents in the sample was 37.6 years (SD 10.3) and 83.3% were females. Factor analyses of the PERP revealed a five-factor structure with acceptable fit (root-mean-square error of approximation =.06). Most important results are that functional self-efficacy is positively predicted by information exchange with health professional moderators (beta=.12, P=.02), information exchange with users (beta=.12, P=.05), and giving social support (beta=.13, P=.02), but negatively predicted with receiving social support (beta=−.21, P<.001). Functional control is also predicted by information exchange with health professional moderators (beta=.16, P=.005). Dysfunctional control and competence are inhibited by information exchanges with health professionals (beta=−.12, P=.03), whereas dysfunctional self-efficacy is inhibited by self-expressing (beta=−.12, P=.05). The process of finding meaning likely leads to the development of dysfunctional competences and control if the physician is perceived to be paternalistic (beta=.14, P=.03). Under the condition of high eHealth literacy, the process of finding meaning will inhibit the development of dysfunctional competences and control (beta=−.17, P=.01). Conclusions: Social processes in OHCs do not have a uniform impact on PERP. This impact is moderated by eHealth literacy and physician paternalism. Exchanging information with health professional moderators in OHCs is the most important factor for stimulating functional PERP as well as diminishing dysfunctional PERP. Social support in OHCs plays an ambiguous role, often making patients behave in a strategic, uncooperative way toward physicians. Journal of Medical Internet Research

The Impact of the Internet on Health Consultation Market Concentration: An Econometric Analysis of Secondary Data

Background: Many markets have traditionally been dominated by a few best-selling products, and this is also the case for the health care industry. However, we do not know whether the market will be more or less concentrated when health care services are delivered online (known as E-consultation), nor do we know how to reduce the concentration of the E-consultation market. Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the concentration of the E-consultation market and how to reduce its concentration through information disclosure mechanisms (online reputation and self-representation). Methods: We employed a secondary data econometric analysis using transaction data obtained from an E-consultation Website ( for three diseases (infantile pneumonia, diabetes, and pancreatic cancer) from 2008 to 2015. We included 2439 doctors in the analysis. Results: The E-consultation market largely follows the 20/80 principle, namely that approximately 80% of orders are fulfilled by nearly 20% of doctors. This is much higher than the offline health care market. Meanwhile, the market served by doctors with strong online reputations (beta=0.207, P<.001) or strong online self-representation (beta=0.386, P<.001) is less concentrated. Conclusions: When health care services are delivered online, the market will be more concentrated (known as the “Superstar” effect), indicating poor service efficiency for society as a whole. To reduce market concentration, E-consultation websites should provide important design elements such as ratings of doctors (user feedback), articles contributed by doctors, and free consultation services (online representation). A possible and important way to reduce the market concentration of the E-consultation market is to accumulate enough highly rated or highly self-represented doctors. Journal of Medical Internet Research

Exploring the Relationship Between Online Social Network Site Usage and the Impact on Quality of Life for Older and Younger Users: An Interaction Analysis

Background: Analyzing content generated by users of social network sites has been shown to be beneficial across a number of disciplines. Such analysis has revealed the precise behavior of users that details their distinct patterns of engagement. An issue is evident whereby without direct engagement with end users, the reasoning for anomalies can only be the subject of conjecture. Furthermore, the impact of engaging in social network sites on quality of life is an area which has received little attention. Of particular interest is the impact of online social networking on older users, which is a demographic that is specifically vulnerable to social isolation. A review of the literature reveals a lack of knowledge concerning the impact of these technologies on such users and even less is known regarding how this impact varies across different demographics. Objective: The objective of our study was to analyze user interactions and to survey the attitudes of social network users directly, capturing data in four key areas: (1) functional usage, (2) behavioral patterns, (3) technology, and (4) quality of life. Methods: An online survey was constructed, comprising 32 questions. Each question directly related to a research question. Respondents were recruited through a variety of methods including email campaigns, Facebook advertisements, and promotion from related organizations. Results: In total, data was collected from 919 users containing 446 younger and 473 older users. In comparison to younger users, a greater proportion of older users (289/473, 61.1% older vs 218/446, 48.9% younger) (P<.001) stated that Facebook had either a positive or huge impact on their quality of life. Furthermore, a greater percentage of older users strongly agreed that Facebook strengthened their relationship with other people (64/473, 13.5% older vs 40/446, 9.0%younger) (P=.02). In comparison to younger users, a greater proportion of older users had more positive emotions—classified as slightly better or very good—during their engagement with Facebook (186/473, 39.3% older vs 120/446, 26.9% younger) (P<.001). Conclusions: The results reveal that despite engaging at considerably lower rates with significantly fewer connections, older users gain a greater quality-of-life benefit. Results disclose how both cohorts vary in their use, interactions, and rationale for engaging with Facebook. Journal of Medical Internet Research

Social Annotation Valence: The Impact on Online Informed Consent Beliefs and Behavior

Background: Social media, mobile and wearable technology, and connected devices have significantly expanded the opportunities for conducting biomedical research online. Electronic consent to collecting such data, however, poses new challenges when contrasted to traditional consent processes. It reduces the participant-researcher dialogue but provides an opportunity for the consent deliberation process to move from solitary to social settings. In this research, we propose that social annotations, embedded in the consent form, can help prospective participants deliberate on the research and the organization behind it in ways that traditional consent forms cannot. Furthermore, we examine the role of the comments’ valence on prospective participants’ beliefs and behavior. Objective: This study focuses specifically on the influence of annotations’ valence on participants’ perceptions and behaviors surrounding online consent for biomedical research. We hope to shed light on how social annotation can be incorporated into digitally mediated consent forms responsibly and effectively. Methods: In this controlled between-subjects experiment, participants were presented with an online consent form for a personal genomics study that contained social annotations embedded in its margins. Individuals were randomly assigned to view the consent form with positive-, negative-, or mixed-valence comments beside the text of the consent form. We compared participants’ perceptions of being informed and having understood the material, their trust in the organization seeking the consent, and their actual consent across conditions. Results: We find that comment valence has a marginally significant main effect on participants’ perception of being informed (F2=2.40, P=.07); specifically, participants in the positive condition (mean 4.17, SD 0.94) felt less informed than those in the mixed condition (mean 4.50, SD 0.69, P=.09). Comment valence also had a marginal main effect on the extent to which participants reported trusting the organization (F2=2.566, P=.08). Participants in the negative condition (mean 3.59, SD 1.14) were marginally less trusting than participants exposed to the positive condition (mean 4.02, SD 0.90, P=.06). Finally, we found that consent rate did not differ across comment valence conditions; however, participants who spent less time studying the consent form were more likely to consent when they were exposed to positive-valence comments. Conclusions: This work explores the effects of adding a computer-mediated social dimension, which inherently contains human emotions and opinions, to the consent deliberation process. We proposed that augmenting the consent deliberation process to incorporate multiple voices can enable individuals to capitalize on the knowledge of others, which brings to light questions, problems, and concerns they may not have considered on their own. We found that consent forms containing positive valence annotations are likely to lead participants to feel less informed and simultaneously more trusting of the organization seeking consent. In certain cases where participants spent little time considering the content of the consent form, participants exposed to positive valence annotations were even more likely to consent to the study. We suggest that these findings represent important considerations for the design of future electronic informed consent mechanisms.
Journal of Medical Internet Research