Online Self Help Groups & Bulletin Boards
Tips for Healthy Web Surfing
What are self-help groups?
Self-help groups offer mutual assistance among individuals with shared concerns. These groups do not depend upon (though may at times include) professional assistance. They can be a source of information on a wide range of topics, and may provide participants with a sense of shared experience and support.
"Members of self-help groups share a common condition or life circumstance. Group members work together to overcome the difficulties they experience. Those directly affected are the ones who control the activities and priorities of the group. Self help is not self care or therapy. Self-help groups assist members to manage their personal situation or condition, but they are not set up and run by professionals..." – Collective of Self Help Groups, Melbourne, Australia.
What are bulletin boards?
Bulletin boards (also called message boards) are a way to communicate with other people on the Internet. The users, or members, are able to upload messages on various topics that appear on the board. This results in a written discussion of topics that may include questions, opinions, and other information that is of interest to the users. They are visible for anyone to read.
Self-help group or bulletin/message board web sites
Certain precautions need to be kept in mind about the information from on-line self-help groups, bulletin boards, message boards, or newsgroups. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when seeking health related information:
- Because of the open nature of on-line group communication, you cannot make assumptions about the security or validity of the information, or of the "quality control" of the information provided.
- Web site policies and purpose should be clearly posted and followed.
- Is the information accurate? Is it factual, or does it represent opinions? Look for sources. It is important to determine whether the information provided arises from a reputable source (e.g., a scientific article or opinion from a professional expert), or whether it is the opinion of a non-professional.
- The questions, replies, and suggestions from participants on bulletin/message boards are often anonymous. Over time, it may be easy to attribute "authority" to familiar respondents based on their messages alone—without really knowing their level of training or experience as a health professional, if any.
- At all times, do not rely on anecdotal information.
- It helps to seek out more than one opinion, and you will then need to come to your own decision about the accuracy of the information. It helps to check it out with your physician.
- Information that is provided about treatment, causes, or diagnosis may not be applicable to your particular circumstances. Always check with your physician before applying a diagnosis or treatment. (It is medically unethical for a physician to diagnose or treat over the Internet.)
A variety of self-help sites and commercial sites with message boards are available on the Internet. It is appropriate to question the value and reliability of any health related web site, book, or publication. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health offers a Guide to Healthy Web Surfing: Evaluating the Quality of Health Information on Web Sites.
For more information about IFFGD web site standards, please refer to our Terms & Conditions page.