Lene Bastrup

Lumbar Spine Fusion Patients' Use of an Internet Support Group: Mixed Methods Study

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BACKGROUND: Internet use within health care contexts offers the possibility to provide both health information and peer support. Internet Support Groups (ISGs) for patients may offer advantages, which are not found in face-to-face support. In patients undergoing lumbar spine fusion (LSF), ISGs could have a particular potential, as peer support on the web might bridge the decreased satisfaction with social life and social isolation found within these patients. ISGs might in this way contribute to increasing the functioning and overall health-related quality of life. However, LSF patients may generally belong to a group of citizens not prone to internet and online peer support. However, our knowledge of how LSF patients use ISGs is limited.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to describe the characteristics of users of an ISG and thematically explore the content of ISG interactions in Danish patients undergoing instrumented LSF because of degenerative spine disorders.

METHODS: Participants were recruited from a randomized controlled trial and included in a prospective cohort with a mixed methods design. Sociodemographic characteristics and information on psychological well-being (symptoms of anxiety and depression) were obtained at baseline and 1 to 5 weeks before surgery. Usage of the ISG was registered from baseline until 3 months after surgery. All posts and comments were collected, and content analysis was performed.

RESULTS: A total of 48 participants comprised the study population, with a mean age of 53 years (range 29-77). Of the participants, 54% (26/48) were female, 85% (41/48) were cohabitating, 69% (33/48) were unemployed, and the majority (69% [33/48]) had secondary education. Approximately one-third of the participants had symptoms of depression (35%, 17/48) and anxiety (29%, 14/48). Overall, 90% (43/48) of the participants accessed the ISG. No correlations were found between sociodemographic characteristics and access to the ISG. Women were more prone to be active users, contributing with posts (P=.04). Finally, active users contributing with posts or comments had viewed more pages, whereas passive users, users without posts or comments, had more interactions with the ISG (P<.001). The ISG contained 180 conversation threads, generating 354 comments. The 180 conversation threads in the ISG were constituted by 671 independent dialogue sequences. On the basis of those 671 dialogue sequences, 7 thematic categories emerged.

CONCLUSIONS: Sociodemographic characteristics were not predictors of ISG use in this study, and active use was found to be gender dependent. Content of interactions on the ISG emerged within 7 thematic categories and focused on social recognition, experience of pain or use of pain medication, experience of physical activity or physical rehabilitation, expression of psychosocial well-being, advising on and exploring the ISG, and employment, which seemed to correspond well with the prevalent occurrence of symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9805
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • BREAST, CANCER, DEPRESSION SCALE, HEALTH, HOSPITAL ANXIETY, INFORMATION, LOW-BACK-PAIN, REHABILITATION, SOCIAL SUPPORT, WOMEN, eHealth, medical informatics, online social networking, self-help groups, social support, spinal fusion

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