Objective: To evaluate social interactions among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), participating in an empirically based, cognitive-behavioural, self-management (SM), and peer-support program, delivered in an online format.
Methods: Thirty individuals with RA were recruited online. Subjects were a subset of participants in the treatment arm of a waiting-list controlled study testing the effectiveness of a 10-week, online, SM education and peer support program. Primary outcomes were process variables describing social activity in the online environment during active treatment. Qualitative review of discussion board posts was undertaken to gain insight into participants' perceptions of social interactions.
Results: Participants spent a large proportion of logged-in time accessing educational materials and community-level activity was vibrant, with members utilizing the discussion board and e-mail. The Chat feature was less well-used. Discussion board posts regarding RAHelp were very positive, especially in regard to perceived supportiveness and bonding among participants, and a sense of feeling uniquely understood by others who have RA. Concern arose in response to periods in which the discussion board was 'too quiet'.
Discussion: Our work complements the emerging literature supporting acceptance and utility of Internet-based programming as a venue for SM education and social interaction among individuals with chronic illness.