Date of Award

August 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Industrial Engineering

Committee Member

Kapil Chalil Madathil

Committee Member

Patrick J. Rosopa

Committee Member

David Neyens

Committee Member

Nicole Davis


The rapid evolution of Information technology (IT) has seen its adoption during many aspects of our lives, including healthcare. Healthcare IT provides the public with access to governmental records, electronic health records, healthcare websites, internet-based medical consultation, and more recently, online peer-support portals. These peer-support portals, which are directed not only towards patients but also caregivers, have been found to be a source of informational and emotional support. In addition, for caregivers who cannot leave their loved ones to access in-person support groups, these online support portals are an important substitute.

In these online peer-support portals, informal caregivers interact with one another, providing emotional and personal support, leading to a sense of camaraderie and thereby a social relationship. The contributions on these portals are voluntary, with some members contributing more often than others. The first study in this dissertation focuses on understanding the patterns of interaction between these top contributors, referred to here as peer patrons, and other informal caregivers in terms of the information they provide, and the unique characteristics of the top contributors based on these interactions. Several unique interaction patterns related to peer patrons were found along with information about how peer patrons contribute towards the coping mechanism of informal caregivers. Interface design implications based on these outcomes were discussed.

With informal caregivers exchanging not only information and emotional content on online peer-support portals but also forming social relations, it is important to understand how these users form impressions of others based on the information they access. The possible consequences of following healthcare and medical advice posted on these portals further emphasize the need to understand how users form impressions of one another on these portals. The second study in this dissertation focuses on impression formation using profiles based on those of the peer patrons who were the focus of the previous study. This exploratory study brought to light the prominence of the comment content and the profile picture in forming impressions on these portals, thereby supporting literature regarding context effects on impression formation. The final chapter is an intervention-based study investigating factors leading to positive impression formation on online healthcare peer-support portals. It supported the findings from the previous study regarding the importance of comment and profile picture and suggested the use of other peer ratings to solidify impressions formed using the former two cues. Additionally, the contribution of this dissertation to the literature and the improvement of online healthcare peer-support portals is discussed.



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