Objectives: Online Health Communities (OHCs) are increasingly being used by patients in the Web 2.0 era. Today's patients have instant access to a great deal of medical information and contacts. Despite the considerable development of OHCs, little is known regarding the impact on the patient–physician relationship. This research aims at filling this gap and examines how interpersonal trust on peer-to-peer OHCs influences two key relational variables, namely patient trust in the physician and patient satisfaction with the physician. It also investigates their influences on the patient's attitude toward the physician.
Methods: Drawing on both the relational and medical literatures, we propose a research model that brings out the relationships between interpersonal trust in OHCs, and patients’ trust, satisfaction and attitude toward the physician. We then conduct a quantitative survey of 512 OHC users in France, using structural equation modeling to test our hypotheses.
Results: Our findings indicate that interpersonal trust in OHCs exerts a positive influence on both patients’ trust in and satisfaction with their physician. It also highlights that these two relational variables have a positive influence on patient attitude toward the physician. Our findings also indicate that patient trust influences patient satisfaction with the physician.
Conclusions: This research highlights the importance of OHCs, which can be seen as valuable instruments for enhancing patient–physician relationships. It shows that healthcare managers should seek to enhance interpersonal trust among OHC users, because this trust has a positive influence on patient satisfaction with, trust in and attitude toward the physician.