Identifying Influences in Patient Decision-making Processes in Online Health Communities: Data Science Approach

Mingda Li, Jinhe Shi, Yi Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In recent years, an increasing number of users have joined online health communities (OHCs) to obtain information and seek support. Patients often look for information and suggestions to support their health care decision-making. It is important to understand patient decision-making processes and identify the influences that patients receive from OHCs. Objective: We aimed to identify the posts in discussion threads that have influence on users who seek help in their decision-making. Methods: We proposed a definition of influence relationship of posts in discussion threads. We then developed a framework and a deep learning model for identifying influence relationships. We leveraged the state-of-the-art text relevance measurement methods to generate sparse feature vectors to present text relevance. We modeled the probability of question and action presence in a post as dense features. We then used deep learning techniques to combine the sparse and dense features to learn the influence relationships. Results: We evaluated the proposed techniques on discussion threads from a popular cancer survivor OHC. The empirical evaluation demonstrated the effectiveness of our approach. Conclusions: It is feasible to identify influence relationships in OHCs. Using the proposed techniques, a significant number of discussions on an OHC were identified to have had influence. Such discussions are more likely to affect user decision-making processes and engage users’ participation in OHCs. Studies on those discussions can help improve information quality, user engagement, and user experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere30634
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Informatics


  • decision-making threads
  • deep learning
  • influence relationship
  • online health communities
  • patient engagement
  • text relevance measurement


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