Background: Although peer-to-peer contact might empower patients in various ways, studies show that only a few patients actually engage in support groups.
Objective: The objective of our study was to explore factors that facilitate or impede engagement in face-to-face and online peer support, using the Theory of Planned Behavior.
Methods: A questionnaire was completed by 679 patients being treated for arthritis, breast cancer, or fibromyalgia at two Dutch regional hospitals.
Results: Our results showed that only a minority of the patients engaged in organized forms of peer support. In total 10% (65/679) of the respondents had engaged in face-to-face meetings for patients in the past year. Only 4% (30/679) of the respondents had contact with peers via the Internet in the past year. Patients were more positive about face-to-face peer support than about online peer support (P < .001). In accordance with the Theory of Planned Behavior, having a more positive attitude (P < .01) and feeling more supported by people in the social environment (P < .001) increased the intention to participate in both kinds of peer support. In addition, perceived behavioral control (P = .01) influenced the intention to participate in online peer support. Nevertheless, the intention to engage in face-to-face and online peer support was only modestly predicted by the Theory of Planned Behavior variables (R2 = .33 for face-to-face contact and R2 = .26 for online contact).
Conclusion: Although Health 2.0 Internet technology has significantly increased opportunities for having contact with fellow patients, only a minority seem to be interested in organized forms of peer contact (either online or face-to-face). Patients seem somewhat more positive about face-to-face contact than about online contact.