Different Length, Different Needs: Qualitative Analysis of Threads in Online Health Communities

Daniel Diethei, Ashley Colley, Julian Wienert, Johannes Schöning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Online health communities provide a knowledge exchange platform for a wide range of diseases and health conditions. Informational and emotional support helps forum participants orient around health issues beyond in-person doctor visits. So far, little is known about the relation between the level of participation and participants’ contributions in online health communities. To gain insights on the issue, we analyzed 456 posts in 56 threads from the Dermatology sub forum of an online health community. While low participation threads (’short threads’) revolved around solving an individual’s health issue through diagnosis suggestions and medical advice, participants in high participation threads (’long threads’) built collective knowledge and a sense of community, typically discussing chronic and rare conditions that medical professionals were unfamiliar with or could not treat effectively. Our results suggest that in short threads an individual’s health issue is addressed, while in long threads, sub communities about specific rare and chronic diseases emerge. This has implications for the user interface design of health forums, which could be developed to better support community building elements, even in short threads.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2022 IEEE 10th International Conference on Healthcare Informatics (ICHI)
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2022
MoEC publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication


  • online health communities
  • collective sensemaking
  • online health forums

Field of science

  • Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
  • Computer and information sciences


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