This is a pilot study about the role of online communities in patients’ empowerment and health self-management. The study has two objectives: i. analyse the impact of participating in the diabetes online community on members’ wellbeing and ii. understand how knowledge shared in the community influences patient-doctor interaction and the quality of healthcare patients receive.
Data were collected through a survey, one focus group, and eleven interviews with members of the online forum of Diabetes.co.uk. This study was conducted thanks to the immense support of Diabetes.co.uk and funding from the Knowledge and Organizational Learning Group of Royal Holloway’s School of Management and Royal Holloway College Research Strategy Fund.
Findings demonstrate that the forum can have a positive impact on its members’ wellbeing and can help members manage their relationship with healthcare professionals. The survey results show the key drivers of members’ participation to the forum and the impact of the knowledge shared on the forum on members’ sense of empowerment, their ability to manage diabetes, and the relationship with their doctor or nurse. Findings from the focus group and interviews provide more evidence about how the forum empowers members to take better care of their diabetes and discuss their needs with their doctor or nurse. They show how forum members use knowledge from the forum to become empowered and provide further insights into the impact of the forum on members’ relationship with their healthcare professionals. In particular, they highlight the tension between the traditional medical advice from the health service and the alternative approaches to diabetes management in the forum.