Introduction: Moderated online health communities (OHCs) are digital platforms that provide a means for patients with similar medical conditions to communicate with each other under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Aims: To examine the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on content and type of posts published in two moderated OHCs – eating disorders and depression/anxiety – by comparing categorizations of posts written before vs. after the lockdown, and about vs. not about the pandemic. Methods: Posts were retrieved from Camoni, the first Israeli medical social network (January-June 2017, March-May 2020). A total of 1475 posts were analyzed. Of them, 802 posts were written before and 680 were written during the first lockdown. Posts were divided into two main categories: informational and emotional, and into fourteen subcategories. Results: Before the pandemic, the eating disorders OHC was characterized as primarily emotional (emotional: 66.7%, informational: 45.4%) and the depression/anxiety OHC as primarily informational (emotional: 49.8%, informational: 65.8%) (χ2 = 31.6, p < 0.001). During the lockdown, there was a transition in the eating disorders community, from primarily emotional to primarily informational communication (emotional: 46.1%, informational: 71.7%) (χ2 = 30.3, p < 0.001). In both OHCs, only about one in six posts written during the lockdown was related to the pandemic. There were only minimal differences in subcategorization of posts written before vs. after the outbreak (e.g., searching for medical information was more common during the pandemic: χ2 = 40.9, p < 0.001), as well as about vs. not about the pandemic (e.g., sharing negative emotions was more common when writing about the pandemic: χ2 = 4.1, p = 0.43). Conclusion: During the first lockdown, people with eating disorders have increased their use of OHCs as sources of informational (as opposed to emotional) support, but the overall impact of the pandemic on the content of posts written in the examined OHCs was minimal, suggesting that OHCs have not changed their function as a valuable means of providing emotional and informational support for people with mental difficulties.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded by The Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research , grant number 2018/133 .
- Eating disorders
- Emotional and informational posts
- Online health communities
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Informatics