Patients' learning in cyberspace: a thematic analysis of patient-patient discussions in a chronic illness Facebook page

Gemma-Dee Stevens, Victoria L O'Donnell, Lynn Williams

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Objective: Online support groups play an increasingly important role in patients' lived experience of chronic illness. The objective of this study was to explore how learning takes place from patients' interactions in an online chronic illness support group. Methods: Qualitative data consisted of 1478 messages posted to a publicly accessible non-illness specific Facebook support page. Data was analysed using inductive thematic analysis. Findings: Four themes were identified from the analysis. This paper presents two themes, information sharing and dis(trust). Employing Wenger's Communities of Practice theoretical framework (Wenger, 1998), themes are discussed in terms of learning, participation in practices and identity. Conclusion: Online support groups can be pivotal to learning in illness. Patients' online information sharing provides them with opportunities for informal learning about their condition to take place. These online interactions lead to patients developing trust for one another and distrust for the medical care system.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Web-Based Communities
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Jun 2018


  • patient interactions
  • illness community
  • chronic illness
  • online support groups
  • communities of practice
  • learning
  • social networks
  • social media

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