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Pediatr Transplant. 2010 Mar;14(2):261-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3046.2010.01271.x.

Use of a virtual community as a psychosocial support system in pediatric transplantation.

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1
Developmental Technologies Research Group, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA.

Abstract

Despite significant interest by pediatric transplant patients in meeting others who have undergone transplantation, geographic distances combined with their daily routines make this difficult. This mixed-method study describes the use of Zora, a Web-based virtual community designed to create a support system for these patients. The Zora software allows participants to create a graphical online virtual city with houses expressing their individuality and objects conveying their concerns and personal stories. Zora allows real-time chat between participants further facilitating communication. Twenty-two post-transplant patients used Zora over nine months. The median number of log ons per participant was 19.50 times (q1 = 5.25, q3 = 41.50), and each participant spent a median of 12.48 h (q1 = 2.13, q3 = 25.55) logged into the program. This represented a median of 18.27 min/wk (q1 = 6.88, q3 = 37.40) per participant. Users created a total of 3736 objects (median/participant = 12.5, q1 = 2.25, q3 = 30) and created 66 virtual houses (median/participant = 2.00, q1 = 1.00, q3 = 3.00). In addition, a total of 14,444 lines of chat were recorded (median/participant = 228.5, q1 = 30.00, q3 = 663.25), and a total 278 messages were sent between users (median/participant = 3.50, q1 = 0.25, q3 = 15.5). Qualitative data show the preliminary success of the project, as three major themes emerged: (i) increased sense of normalcy for the patients, (ii) enhanced sense of self and contribution to the community, and (iii) increased social network. There were no instances of harmful interactions in the virtual world. This study demonstrates the feasibility and safety of a virtual community as a potential psychosocial intervention for post-transplant adolescents.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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