Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 36 Number 1 2019 pp. 194-229

Fostering Participant Health Knowledge and Attitudes: An Econometric Study of a Chronic Disease-Focused Online Health Community

Chen, Langtao, Baird, Aaron, and Straub, Detmar


Health consumers are increasingly participating in consumer-to-consumer (C2C) online health communities (OHCs) to receive health-related support and to provide assistance and support to others. However, questions remain as to how individual OHC participants are affected by the relationships they have established within an OHC and how the content exchanged between OHC participants impacts individual-level health knowledge and attitudes. To address these open questions, we develop a model that integrates participant network position (i.e., structural social capital) in an OHC, informational and emotional support exchange, and downstream individual-level health knowledge and attitudes. Based on a panel dataset collected from nine chronic disease-focused discussion boards within an OHC platform, we find that structural social capital is indeed a significant antecedent to social support exchange within an OHC and, interestingly, that social support provisioning (i.e., proactively aiding others) has a stronger effect than social support receipt on health literacy and health attitude improvement.

Key words and phrases: online health communities, chronic disease, structural social capital, social support exchange, health knowledge, health literacy, health attitudes, machine learning, social network analysis