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Keywords:

  • Internet;
  • online social support;
  • diabetes;
  • lay knowledge;
  • health;
  • self-help

The advent of thousands of Usenet groups on the Internet, covering a vast range of medical and welfare issues and ostensibly devoted to the mutual social support of participating members, has raised the potential for the development of new forms of ‘virtual’ health care. This article critically analyses the use by people with diabetes of one such Usenet group. It seeks to establish, first, the extent to which such a site provides some demonstrable measure of social support to its participants. This is approached by undertaking a structural analysis of the site to identify the extent of usage, and the nature of supporting interventions using a fivefold classification (instrumental, informational, esteem and social companionship and other). Second, the article attempts to identify any disparity between the lay health-knowledge in evidence and biomedical opinions proffered by the use of a panel of consultant diabetiologists. The results of the analysis suggest that the diabetes newsgroup provides an example of an active forum for largely well-informed participants who routinely use the media as an aid to the reflexive management of their medical condition. It also raises the prospect of a renegotiated relationship between medical knowledge and lay experience based upon shared learning