Patient perspectives on health advice posted on Internet discussion boards: a qualitative study

Health Expect. 2009 Sep;12(3):313-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-7625.2009.00543.x. Epub 2009 Jun 25.


Background: Use of the Internet for health information by patients is growing, and there have been diverse responses to this both within the research community and the medical and health-related professions. The use of Internet discussion boards are one way that people living with long-term conditions can interact with their peers and offer and seek advice, support and information. We report patient perspectives on using a discussion board within a wider pilot study of an Internet-based self-management system for diabetes.

Design: Qualitative data was gathered during three stages of developing and piloting the wider self-management system. These are: (1) patient focus groups as part of a stakeholder consultation; (2) a pre-test session and focus group; and 3. a 6-month pilot study including follow-up individual interviews.

Results: Three main themes were identified within participants' perspectives on Internet discussion boards. First, a focus on the importance and value of peer support to these patients. Secondly, participants' awareness of the need to evaluate the information posted by others in light of their own circumstances. Thirdly, the value placed upon the experiential knowledge of others living with the same condition.

Conclusions: Many people living with long-term conditions would like to be in contact with their peers, and Internet discussion boards represent a cost-effective and interactive way of achieving this. Within the context of diabetes, the knowledge and expertise accumulated over many years of self-management is central to participants' self-reported ability to evaluate information posted and make decisions on its possible use.

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Qualitative Research
  • United Kingdom