Online Leaders in Online Cancer Support Groups
Abstract: With a focus on the nature and dynamic process of social interactions among breast cancer patients, this study argues that the notion of opinion leaders can be another crucial factor in explaining positive psychosocial health outcomes within computer-mediated social support (CMSS) groups. This study investigates the relationship between opinion leaders and their psychosocial health benefits by considering two overarching questions: (a) Who are the opinion leaders? (b) What role do these opinion leaders play in explaining health outcomes? The data analyzed in this study resulted from merging human-coded content analysis of discussion group messages, action log data analysis of interactive health system usage, and longitudinal survey data. Surveys were administered to 221 women with breast cancer; participants were provided free access to and training for the CMSS groups developed by the Comprehensive Health Support System (CHESS) project. The findings suggest that opinion leaders obtained psychosocial health benefits, such as higher levels of cancer information competence, breast cancer knowledge, and better problem-focused coping strategies. Those who had a higher baseline level of breast cancer knowledge and optimism in coping with challenges in their life were more likely to act as opinion leaders. Implications for research and improving psychosocial interventions for people with health concerns are discussed.