Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Community and Behavioral Health

First Advisor

Michelle L. Campo

Second Advisor

John B. Lowe

Abstract

The availability of online support communities creates new opportunities for caregivers of children affected by health conditions to manage their illness-related uncertainty. This dissertation includes two studies that examined the presence of uncertainty management behaviors in online interactions among parents (caregivers) of children with clubfeet, and empirically tested the applicability of the uncertainty management theory to online behaviors. The Uncertainty Management Theory provided the theoretical foundation for both studies. For the first study, a content analysis of messages exchanged in an online support community dedicated to parents of children with clubfeet was conducted. Most messages were authored by women. The majority of the emotions expressed in the messages were positive. The most frequent information-seeking behaviors were direct questioning and self-disclosure. Information exchanges as a strategy to manage uncertainty included names of health care professionals and medical information. Five major types of social support (informational, tangible, network, esteem, and emotional) were identified. Informational support was the most frequent type of support provided, followed by emotional and esteem support. A third of the messages included combinations of two or more types of social support. For the second study an online survey was distributed using a snow-balling technique. Based on the survey data structural equation modeling was used to empirically test the uncertainty management framework. Positive relationships were identified between knowledge and information seeking, information seeking and social support, social support and sense of virtual community, uncertainty and stress. The results suggested that the uncertainty management theory may need to be adapted for use in online contexts. Uncertainty seems to be an important part of the experience of parents caring for children with clubfoot. Online communities dedicated to these parents represent a promising setting for studying illness-related uncertainty and its potential causes. Such studies can be a critical source of information to inform priorities for research and practice. This dissertation is the first step in better understanding the audience and provides an initial exploration of uncertainty management and communication processes present in an online support community. As we learn more about the parent audience, the importance of communicating with them becomes increasingly clear.

Keywords

Birth defects, Clubfeet, Disabilities, Health communication, Online support groups, Parents/Caregivers

Pages

x, 159 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 119-141).

Copyright

Copyright 2009 Florin Ilie Oprescu

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