Archive (2016–2006)

Inferring Community Structure in Healthcare Forums

Journal: Methods of Information in Medicine
Subtitle: A journal stressing, for more than 50 years, the methodology and scientific fundamentals of organizing, representing and analyzing data, information and knowledge in biomedicine and health care
ISSN: 0026-1270

Focus Theme
Webscience in Medicine and Healthcare
Guest Editors: K. Denecke, E. Brooks

Issue: 2013 (Vol. 52): Issue 2 2013
Pages: 160-167

Inferring Community Structure in Healthcare Forums

An Empirical Study

Focus Theme – Web Science in Medicine and Healthcare

T. Chomutare (1), E. Årsand (1, 2), L. Fernandez-Luque (3), J. Lauritzen (2), G. Hartvigsen (1)

(1) University hospital of North Norway, Norwegian Center for Integrated Care and Telemedicine, Tromsø, Norway; (2) University of Tromsø, Department of Computer Science, Tromsø, Norway; (3) Northern Research Institute, Tromsø, Norway


diabetes, social networks, homophily, assortativity, community detection


Background: Detecting community structures in complex networks is a problem interesting to several domains. In healthcare, discovering communities may enhance the quality of web offerings for people with chronic diseases. Understanding the social dynamics and community attachments is key to predicting and influencing interaction and information flow to the right patients.

Objectives: The goal of the study is to empirically assess the extent to which we can infer meaningful community structures from implicit networks of peer interaction in online healthcare forums.

Methods: We used datasets from five online diabetes forums to design networks based on peer-interactions. A quality function based on user interaction similarity was used to assess the quality of the discovered communities to complement existing homophily measures.

Results: Results show that we can infer meaningful communities by observing forum interactions. Closely similar users tended to co-appear in the top communities, suggesting the discovered communities are intuitive. The number of years since diagnosis was a significant factor for cohesiveness in some diabetes communities.

Conclusion: Network analysis is a tool that can be useful in studying implicit networks that form in healthcare forums. Current analysis informs further work on predicting and influencing interaction, information flow and user interests that could be useful for personalizing medical social media.

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