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Albert Park

Graduated: January 1, 2015

Thesis/Dissertation Title:

Enhancing Health Information Gathering Experience in Online Health Communities

Online health communities can offer a range of diverse personal health expertise and experiences, yet gathering relevant health information is a significant challenge for members and researchers as each party faces different obstacles.

In my dissertation, I examine the challenges of gathering health information from online health communities in two parts according to the respective stakeholders. I first address the challenge that patient members face during their time of interaction with the online community to gather information. Within the context of computer-mediated communication in online health communities, I focus on issues associated with topic drift (i.e., topic changes) and sustainment of active participation (i.e. posting messages to participate in the communities). I also address the challenge of processing and making sense of a large amount of collective knowledge shared in online health communities. Within the context of patient-generated text in online cancer communities, I focus on the challenges of automatically understanding patient-generated text using existing natural language processing (NLP) tools.

Many members of online communities are willing to go the extra mile to help others in similar situations. Yet, many challenges hinder the experience of gathering health information from these communities.Though these efforts leave a digital trace that is embedded with diverse personal health expertise and experiences, we still lack the capability to automatically utilize this invaluable information. By expanding on existing knowledge on topic drift, sustainment of active participation, and processing patient-generated text, we can maximize the benefits of online health communities and improve patient members’experience of gathering health information.

Last Known Position:

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biomedical Informatics, University of Utah


Wanda Pratt (Chair), Andrea Hartzler, Jina Huh, David McDonald, Meliha Yetisgen, Gary Hsieh (GSR)