Talking about your health to strangers: Understanding the use of online social networks by patients

Nathalie Colineau*, Cécile Paris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


The internet has become a participatory place where everyone can contribute and interact with others. In health in particular, social media have changed traditional patient-physician relationships. Patients are organising themselves in groups, sharing observations and helping each other, although there is still little evidence of the effectiveness of these online communities on people's health. To understand why and how people use health-related sites, we studied these sites and identified three dimensions characterising most of them: informational/supportive; general/focused; and new relationships/existing ones. We conducted an online survey about the use of health-related social networking (SN) sites and learnt that, consistent with previous research, most patients were seeking information about their medical condition online, while, at the same time, still interacting with health professionals to talk about sensitive information and complex issues. We also found that, while people's natural social network played an important role for emotional support, sometimes, people chose to not involve their family, but instead interact with peers online because of their perceived support and ability to understand someone's experience, and also to maintain a comfortable emotional distance. Finally, our results show that people using general SN sites do not necessarily use health-related sites and vice versa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-160
Number of pages20
JournalNew Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • Health and wellbeing
  • Online social network
  • Social support


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