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Patient Educ Couns. 2009 Apr;75(1):16-24. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2008.08.029. Epub 2009 Feb 23.

Gender differences in computer-mediated communication: a systematic literature review of online health-related support groups.

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University of Nottingham, Institute of Work, Health and Organisations, International House, Jubilee Campus, Wollaton Road, Nottingham NG8 1BB, United Kingdom.



Previous research has contended that the unique characteristics of the Internet might remove some of the gender differences that exist in face-to-face healthcare. The aims of the present study were to systematically review studies that have examined gender differences in communication within online health communities.


A literature search was conducted to identify studies addressing gender differences in messages posted to online health-related support groups. Out of the 1186 articles identified, twelve were retrieved for review.


Half of the studies examined gender differences by comparing male and female cancer discussion boards. The literature review revealed that some gender differences were observed in these studies. However, for studies that analysed mixed-gender communities, gender differences were less evident.


Results seemed to reveal gender differences in communications in single-sex online health support groups, and similarities in communication patterns in mixed-sex online health support groups. However, findings should be treated with caution due to the diversity in studies and methodological issues highlighted in the present review.


There is a need for health care professionals to take into account a range of situational and contextual factors that may affect how men and women use online health support groups. However, more robust research is needed before concrete guidelines can be developed to help health care professionals develop effective online support interventions.

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