What e-patients want from the doctor-patient relationship: content analysis of posts on discussion boards

J Med Internet Res. 2012 Nov 8;14(6):e155. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2068.


Background: People with long-term conditions are encouraged to take control and ownership of managing their condition. Interactions between health care staff and patients become partnerships with sharing of expertise. This has changed the doctor-patient relationship and the division of roles and responsibilities that traditionally existed, but what each party expects from the other may not always be clear. Information that people with long-term conditions share on Internet discussion boards can provide useful insights into their expectations of health care staff. This paper reports on a small study about the expectations that people with a long-term condition (diabetes) have of their doctors using information gleaned from Internet discussion boards.

Objective: The aim of this study was to ascertain what people with diabetes who use Internet discussion forums want from their doctors. The study objectives were to identify what people with diabetes (1) consider their role in condition management, (2) consider their doctor's role in managing their condition, (3) see as positive elements of their interactions with medical staff, and (4) find problematic in their interactions with medical staff.

Methods: The study used qualitative methodology to explore the experiences, views, and perceptions of individuals participating on 4 Internet message boards. Posts made on the discussion boards were analyzed using the principles of qualitative content analysis. The meanings of sections of data were noted using codes that were developed inductively; those with similar codes were merged into subcategories and related subcategories were combined to form categories.

Results: The key themes identified in the study were ownership of condition management, power issues between people with long-term conditions and doctors, and ways in which people seek to manage their doctors.

Conclusions: People with diabetes valued doctors who showed respect for them and their knowledge, and were willing to listen and openly discuss their options. Patients felt that they could and should take responsibility for and control of their day-to-day disease management. They saw doctors as having a role in this process, but when this was lacking, many people felt able to use alternative means to achieve their goal, although the doctor's function in terms of gatekeeping resources could create difficulties for them in this respect.

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus / psychology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Self Care
  • Self Efficacy