Social support in a virtual community: analysis of a clinic-affiliated online support group for persons living with HIV/AIDS

October 19, 2017 by School of Medicine Webmaster

Social support can improve outcomes for people living with HIV (PLWH) and could be provided through online support groups. The Positive Links smartphone app is a multicomponent intervention that allows users to interact in a clinic-affiliated anonymous online support group. We investigated how social support was exchanged in a group of 55 participants over 8 months, using an adaptation of the Social Support Behavior Code. Participant interviews assessed their experiences and perceptions of the app. Of 840 posts analyzed, 115 (14 %) were coded as eliciting social support and 433 (52 %) as providing social support. Messages providing support were predominantly emotional (41 %), followed by network (27 %), esteem (24 %), informational (18 %), and instrumental (2 %) support. Participants perceived connection and support as key benefits of the app. Technical issues and interpersonal barriers limited some participants in fully using the app. Mobile technology offers a useful tool to reach populations with barriers to in-person support and may improve care for PLWH.