This is a guest blog post by Cleo Kordomenos. Cleo was my student in the New Media and Health Communication class I taught at TCNJ. More about the class is shared in this post.
Cleo Kordomenos is a Senior Communication Studies student at The College of New Jersey with a concentration in Health Communication and a minor in Public Health. After completing her undergraduate degree, she plans to pursue a Master’s in Public Health, specializing in Health Policy and Management. Currently, she is working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia doing research for CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention. Outside the classroom and the office, you can find her enjoying time with her family and friends by the beach, hiking, biking, and cooking.
I entered my New Media and Health Communication course at The College of New Jersey opposed to the idea of online health communities as means of providing patient-centered care to individuals. You would think that as a 21-year-old, growing up immersed in technology, I would welcome the idea of utilizing the internet to create online communities.
Growing up as a daughter of two first-generation Greek-Americans, I learned early-on that the personal, physical human interaction has much more value than anything virtual or online. After all, what better cure was there for the cold than curling up on the couch with Yiayia’s hand-knit quilt and homemade bowl of warm, avgolemono soup? For the common cold, sure online health communities can’t offer the same comfort and support as the physical touch that a loved one or someone close to you can offer. But I was thinking of online health communities from an outsider’s perspective; these online communities are not for acute ailments such as the flu and common cold, but rather are most beneficial to those who suffer from chronic illnesses and cannot get all the support they need from physical support alone.
My opposition to online health communities stemmed from a lack of knowledge. After spending a semester exploring various online health communities, such as Patients Like Me, and hearing personal accounts from patients who greatly benefited from participating in online health communities. I actually had a chance to impart my new found appreciation for online health communities this past weekend at a family gathering.
I was having casual conversation at a family gathering and one of my aunts mentioned her use of online forums and health communities in dealing with her chronic illness. As a participant in these communities and forums, she mentioned her concern with believing everything she sees posted by users in these forums and communities. Often the information she receives incites fear in her and she goes to her physician with these concerns that are not relevant in her case. Because of this, her physician advised her not to seek help from online forums and health communities.
While online health forums should certainly be approached with caution, I think it is necessary for doctors to embrace this rapidly growing health trend and encourage patients with chronic conditions to seek support from such online forums and communities. If patients first hear of these communities and forums from their primary care physicians, they will go to those forums and communities recommended and approved by the doctor rather than going in blind and following faulty or unreliable advice.
Much like my own initial opposition to online health communities, I think most people’s aversion to online health communities can be changed simply by being more informed. I’ve seen first-hand the great benefit that these communities offer to individuals suffering from chronic illnesses and these benefits shouldn’t be neglected simply because outsiders looking in do not approve.