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Informal Caregivers' Experiences and Perceptions of a Web-Based Peer Support Network: Mixed-Methods Study

Background: Web-based peer support interventions have shown promise in reducing social isolation and social support deficits among informal caregivers, but little research has examined how caregivers use and perceive these interventions.; Objective: In this study, we examined utilization and perceptions of a Web-based social support intervention for informal caregivers of wounded, ill, and injured United States military service members and veterans.; Methods: This was a mixed-methods study that used quantitative survey data and qualitative data from focus groups and interviews with informal caregivers enrolled in a Web-based peer support intervention to explore their use and perceptions of the intervention. The intervention was delivered via a website that featured interest groups organized around specific topics, webinars, webchats, and messaging functionality and was moderated by professionally trained peers. This study occurred in the context of a quasi-experimental outcome evaluation of the intervention, where intervention participants were compared with a group of military caregivers who were not enrolled in the intervention.; Results: Survey findings indicated that caregivers used the website infrequently, with 60.7% (128/211) visiting the website once a month or less, and passively, with a minority (32/144, 22.2%) of users (ie, those who had visited the website at least once during the past 3 months, N=144) posting comments or links to the network. Nonetheless, most users (121/144, 84.0%) endorsed moderate or greater satisfaction with the website on the survey, and focus group and interview participants reported benefiting sufficiently from passive use of the website (eg, reading posts). Quantitative and qualitative findings suggested that users viewed the website primarily as a source of informational support. Among 63.2% (91/144) of users who completed the survey, the most commonly reported network-related activity was obtaining information from the network's resource library, and focus group and interview participants viewed the network primarily as an informational resource. Focus group and interview participants expressed an unmet need for emotional support and the desire for a more personal touch in the forms of more active engagement with other caregivers in the network and the creation of local, in-person support groups for caregivers.; Conclusions: These findings suggest that Web-based peer support interventions may lend themselves better to the provision of informational (vs emotional) support and may need to be supplemented by in-person peer support groups to better meet caregivers' needs for emotional support.

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JMIR Publications
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Journal Of Medical Internet Research
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