What influences patient participation in an online forum for weight loss surgery? A qualitative case study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionInteractive Journal of Medical Research. 2014, 16 (2:e4), . 10.2196/ijmr.2847
Background: Many patients who undergo weight loss (bariatric) surgery seek information and social support in online discussion forums, but the vast amount of available information raises concerns about the impact of such information. A secure online discussion forum was developed and offered to bariatric surgery patients. The forum was moderated and allowed contact with peers and health care professionals. Objective: The purposes of this study were to explore how individuals undergoing bariatric surgery used the moderated discussion forum and to better understand what influenced their participation in the forum. Methods: The study was designed as an explorative case study. We conducted participant observation of the discussion forum over a time period of approximately six months. For further insight, we carried out in-depth semistructured interviews with seven patients who had access to the forum. We analyzed the material inductively, using content and thematic analysis. Results: The patients used the forum as an arena in which to interact with peers and providers, as well as to provide and achieve informational and social support. The analysis suggests that there are three major themes that influenced participation in the online discussion forum: (1) the participant’s motivation to seek information, advice, and guidance, (2) the need for social support and networking among peers, and (3) concerns regarding self-disclosure. Conclusions: The findings of this study imply that a moderated discussion forum for bariatric surgery patients has potential for use in a therapeutic context. The discussion forum fulfilled the informational and support needs of the bariatric surgery patients and was particularly useful for those who excluded themselves from the traditional program and experienced barriers to expressing their own needs. Even though our findings imply that the patients benefitted from using the forum regardless of their active or passive participation, restraining factors, such as considerations regarding self-disclosure, must be further investigated to prevent certain users from being precluded from participation.