This article aims to explore the relationship between patient empowerment and information and communication technologies (ICTs). Indeed, ICTs are considered important for increasing access to medical information and for patients’ other experiences, thereby nourishing the empowering rhetoric. The paper presents a research study conducted in Italy that focuses on the self-assessments made by online health communities (OHCs) users, subdivided in three categories, according to their level of online activity: Lurkers, occasionally active users and frequently active users. The concept of empowerment was operationalised in five issues: autonomy from doctors, involvement in medical decision-making, competence, self-management and acceptance. The results support the relationship between perceptions of empowerment and the higher level of activity played on OHCs, contributing instead to reject the idea of a generalised benefit. Moreover, the paper aims to enrich the theory of patient empowerment by adding a socio-material perspective. This helps broaden the understanding of the relationship between empowerment and ICTs by highlighting its underlying complex skein.
Key words: Empowerment, self-management, information and communication technologies, online health communities, socio-material perspective, chronic disease.
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