Field Description

More of my coursework – this is my first draft of my field description. I am not really sure what I am doing with this one, feedback and comments would really be appreciated. I have never really completed a field description for research before, so I am after anything that might help me make this submission better, because I am feeling a little bit like this dog right about now…


Anyway, I hope that I am on the right track 🙂 Thanks again for reading!

Preliminary Title – Self-management of Chronic Pain using social media.

Formulate and describe a field for developing major project

Effective self-management is an established therapeutic goal for Chronic Pain (Borkan & Cherkin, 1996) and understanding the extent and nature of daily self-management of chronic pain symptoms is important. A large number of studies in clinical populations have consistently shown that self-management of symptoms and contact with a support network is associated with better outcome (Cohen et al., 2000; Von Korff et al., 1994).

My research will aim to uncover what makes a successful online support group via a closed Facebook group for people suffering with Chronic Pain and attempt to see why these types of groups are important. From a communication perspective there have been very few studies looking in to the potential of social media for management of chronic illness, but the popularity of these groups suggests that there is a great need for people to gain this type of support online.

This field encompasses two broad areas of study; Computer mediated communication, Social networks and communities from the broader Communication and Media discipline and the self-management techniques of Chronic Pain and definition of Chronic Pain from a biomedical discipline.

Theoretical and practical issues in this chosen specialisation

The inflated usage of closed Facebook groups as a mechanism for support indicates that there is a potential for an inherent impact on health status and enhanced quality of life for people with Chronic Pain through engaging in these online environments (Merolli, Martin-Sanchez & Grey 2013). This creates a large scope for research as there are many different ways a researcher can undertake a study within this specialisation, and creates a practical issue for the researcher; a decision to narrow the range in some way needs to be made.

Often, these studies are completed by an academic who is trained in a biomedical discipline and their research doesn’t necessarily encompass the themes and what is actually stated within the groups, but rather looks at the quantitative measures – how many as opposed to why people are joining and what they are saying. This study will be focusing on the people that are in a selected closed group and what they are saying about their conditions, what support they are seeking and the information that they are sharing.

Theoretical issues that could potentially arise within the chosen disciplines could encompass grasping the understanding from the biomedical point of view of Chronic Pain. Although this isn’t the main focus of the research, a solid understanding is needed as it is part of the basis of my reading.

Disciplines, concepts, authors/authorities and practices relevant to research

Communication practices will be looking at computer mediated communication, social networks and communities online that are connecting patients via social media (Huang & Dunbar, 2013). Analysing what people in these communities are saying is also a very important part of this research (via content analysis and netnography (Kozinets, 2010); ethnographic research online). The development of social media and communities online is an important focus; development of new technologies can be seen as presenting a fairly smooth and continuous profile (Marx & Smith, 1995) and this is not unlike the development of social media support networks, specifically in the instance of medical support groups. I will be working alongside my supervisor and using her expertise in social media and this type of qualitative research online to assist me with the coding aspect of my research.

Biomedical practices in this research will include exploring self-management techniques that are already in place for people suffering with Chronic Pain (Blyth, et al. 2005), the factors that cause Chronic Pain and why it comes about (Butler & Moseley, 2003). Zhang, He & Sang (2013) also speak about Facebook as a Platform for Health Information and Communication; looking at previous case studies (this particular one was looking at a Diabetes group on Facebook) and  will help to create grounding for my research. I have also met with Siobhan Schabrun a NHMRC Clinical Research Fellow/Senior Lecturer at UWS who has conducted research in the past regarding Chronic Pain to gain insight into the biomedical approach to dealing with Chronic Pain.

Practices relevant to this research are heavily based on qualitative analysis of content (Krippendorff, 2004) as well as the use of netnography (Kozinets, 2010) to explore the composition of the online community. Proficiency in both SPSS to analyse my quantitative data from the 10 question survey I am putting forward to group members as well as Nvivo to analyse the qualitative data that I collect are both important practices and research resources that are identified as important in my field of research.

Appropriate research resources

I have divided my research resources into categories in preparation for my literature review. The categories are as follows:

  • Readings on Chronic Pain, what it is and the biomedical implications (Blyth, et al. 2005; Butler & Moseley, 2003).
  • Qualitative research methods, content analysis and netnography, ethnographic studies online (Kozinets, 2010; Silverman, 1997 & Krippendorff, 2004); Quantitative research practices (Vogt, 2011)
  • Support group compositions and the change in support group structure styles (Townsend, Gearing, & Polyanskaya, 2012.; Kurtz, 1997)
  • Social media analysis, the implications and advantages of an online connected community in regards to health practices and creation of communities sharing resources (Zhang, He & Sang, 2013; Dijck, 2013)

Dividing up my research resources in this way will allow me to make sure that I have covered all important grounds within my topic. It gives a concise breakdown of all of the areas of my field of research so that I am able to make sure all research areas are sufficiently covered.

This field of research is bringing together two rather non-conventional backgrounds and using my expertise in communication and new media to analyse an issue that is usually examined purely from a biomedical point of view to hopefully shed a new light on the importance of using social media as a part of the self-management of Chronic Pain.

Works Cited

Blyth, F. M., March, L M. Nicholas, M K. Cousins, M J. (2005). Self-management of chronic pain: a population-based study. Pain 113(3): 285-292

Borkan J.M, & Cherkin DC. (1996) An Agenda for Primary Care Research on Low Back Pain. Spine Vol.21(24), pp.2880-4

Butler D.S., Moseley G.L. (2003) Explain pain. Adelaide, Australia: Noigroup Publications

Cohen M, Nicholas MK, Bland A. (2000) Medical assessment and management of work-related low back and neck/arm pain. Occup Health Safety Aust NZ 16(4):307–17.

Coulson, N.S & Shaw, R.L. (2013) Nurturing health-related online support groups: Exploring the experiences of patient moderators. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 29, (Issue 4) Pages 1695-1701 Retrieved from

Dijck, J. V. (2013) The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Huang, E., & Dunbar, C. L. (2013). Connecting to patients via social media: A hype or a reality? Journal of Medical Marketing,13(1), 14-23. doi:

Kozinets, R. V. (2010) Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online. Sage Publications

Krippendorff, K. (2004) Content Analysis: An Introduction to its Methodology. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Kurtz, L. F. (1997) Self Help and Support Groups: A Handbook for Practitioners. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Marx, L. & Smith, M. R. (1995). Does Technology Drive History: The Dilemma of Technological Determinism; A Collection of Essays. London: MIT Press

Merolli, M.,  Gray,K., & Martin-Sanchez, F. (2013) Health outcomes and related effects of using social media in chronic disease management: A literature review and analysis of affordances, Journal of Biomedical Informatics. Retrieved from

Silverman, D. (ed.) (1997) Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Townsend, L., PhD., Gearing, R. E., PhD., & Polyanskaya, O., M.S. (2012). Influence of health beliefs and stigma on choosing internet support groups over formal mental health services. Psychiatric Services, 63(4), 370-6

Vogt W. P. (Ed.). (2011). SAGE Quantitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:

Von Korff M, Barlow W, Cherkin D, Deyo RA. (1994)  Effects of practice style in managing back pain. Ann Intern Med 121(3):187–95.

Zhang, Y., He, D., & Sang, Y. (2013). Facebook as a platform for health information and communication: A case study of a diabetes group. Journal of Medical Systems, 37(3), 1-9942. doi:


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