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Comput Struct Biotechnol J. 2018 Oct 12;16:388-395. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2018.10.001. eCollection 2018.

The "Real World"? Effects of Online Communication about Prostate Cancer on Offline Communication.

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Westat, 1600 Research Blvd, Rockville, MD 20850, United States.
George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030, United States.



Online peer-to-peer social support programs are based on the premise that support from others who have been through a similar experience can help reduce the negative impacts of disease. Such support programs are increasingly found online, but how these conversations translate into real world interactions about health concerns is currently not well understood.


Grounded in social network theory, this formative study explored how participants in an online prostate cancer community comprised of patients and their families translate their online conversations into offline ones. A survey was designed and fielded, and received 157 complete responses.


Results support prior research findings that these offline conversations are primarily information-oriented (n = 105) and extend them by the finding that members of online prostate cancer social support communities do, in fact, share information obtained online with others offline (n = 103). Family members appear to be primary receivers of this information (n = 121) while health care providers are not, which may impact treatment and care.


The opportunity to tie more concretely online messages with offline conversations is of critical importance and interest. Recommendations are presented for future research.


Interpersonal communication; Online communities; Prostate cancer; Social media; Social networks

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