The influence of health-specific social network site use on the psychological well-being of cancer-affected people

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2016 May;23(3):467-76. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocv170. Epub 2016 Jan 17.


Objective: We aimed to explore and examine how and in what ways the use of social network sites (SNSs) can improve health outcomes, specifically better psychological well-being, for cancer-affected people.

Methods: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with users of the Ovarian Cancer Australia Facebook page (OCA Facebook), the exemplar SNS used in this study. Twenty-five women affected by ovarian cancer who were users of OCA Facebook were interviewed. A multi-theory perspective was employed to interpret the data.

Results: Most of the study participants used OCA Facebook daily. Some users were passive and only observed created content, while other users actively posted content and communicated with other members. Analysis showed that the use of this SNS enhanced social support for users, improved the users' experiences of social connectedness, and helped users learn and develop social presence, which ultimately improved their psychological well-being.

Discussion: The strong theoretical underpinning of our research and empirically derived results led to a new understanding of the capacity of SNSs to improve psychological well-being. Our study provides evidence showing how the integration of these tools into existing health services can enhance patients' psychological well-being. This study also contributes to the body of knowledge on the implications of SNS use for improving the psychological well-being of cancer-affected people.

Conclusion: This research assessed the relationship between the use of SNSs, specifically OCA Facebook, and the psychological well-being of cancer-affected people. The study confirmed that using OCA Facebook can improve psychological well-being by demonstrating the potential value of SNSs as a support service in the healthcare industry.

Keywords: Facebook; Social network sites; cancer-affected people; learning; psychological well-being; social connectedness; social presence; social support.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cancer Survivors / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Rats
  • Social Media*
  • Social Support*