Online social support most frequently takes the form of a listserv or mailing list whereby members communicate with each other around a specific health-related topic.
The ubiquitous use of personal computers coupled with ease of access to the Internet has proliferated computer-mediated communication.
This paper reviews the development of health-related online support groups, examines research conducted within these communities, compares their utility with traditional support groups and discusses the implications of these groups for health education.
Online support groups are expanding as the general public becomes more comfortable using computer-mediated communication technology.
These support groups have certain benefits for users who may not be able to or do not have the desire to attend face-to-face sessions.
Online support groups have emerged within health care as a result of the need individuals have to know more about health conditions they are confronting.
The proliferation of these online communities may provide an opportunity for health educators to reach target populations with specific messages.
The literature indicates such groups exist for diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, ankylosing spondylosis, breast cancer, brain cancer, prostate cancer and epilepsy (Gross and Brandt, 1981; Drodge ., 2000).