Home > RNJ > 2005 > January/February > Commentary: Social Support in Cyberspace: Lessons Learned

Commentary: Social Support in Cyberspace: Lessons Learned
Teresa L. Thompson, PhD RN CRRN-A

The Internet houses a vast amount of health information from a variety of sources. Today one can use the Internet to find and participate in interactive support groups for most health conditions and interests. Despite abundant Internet resources, there are concerns regarding the evaluation of these sites, the benefits of group participation, and the overall nature of the support found on the Internet.

The Women to Women computer-based outreach program described in this article provides an online health-promotion intervention for a targeted group of rural women. The presentation focuses on the evaluation of the effects of the intervention as compared with the very limited aid provided to a control group and the changes made based on this evaluation.

The need for research to support or refute nursing interventions is constant. This innovative intervention has the potential to reach individuals in remote locations, which makes it an ideal nursing intervention to promote health and support the sample population. However, without evaluation, the impact of this or any intervention is unknown. The evaluation is key to providing beneficial intervention and support. Cudney et al. have provided a step-by-step approach outlining the findings from the first phase of this intervention. Each finding is analyzed for its potential to effect change, thus refining and strengthening the program. Identifying the most sensitive measures for an intervention and eliminating confounding variables, such as the phone interviews for the control group, will enhance the clarity of findings.

Nurses are well-positioned to develop and support applications due to their knowledge of health promotion and the prevention and management of diseases. Consequently, nurses are finding an increasing number of ways to apply computer-aided interventions for support and education. In today’s healthcare system, lengths of stay are short and resources are limited; as a result the need for ongoing follow-up and support is increasing. A program such as Women to Women has great potential for widespread support, though quantification of the outcomes is needed to gain the external support necessary for continuing development and maintenance.