Small Closed Virtual Communities
Case: Power & Support from the Net Rehabilitation courses for people with multiple sclerosis
Acta Universitatis Tamperensis No. 1603


By Marie Heikkinen
June 2011
Tampere Univeristy Press
Distributed by Coronet Books
ISBN: 9789514484001
107 pages
$82.50 Paper original

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a quite unknown and often a scary disease. However, it is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system in Finland with approximately seven thousand and wordlwide over two million people suffering from it. A smooth rehabilitation for people suffering from this long-term progressive neurological disease is essential to obtain information on the disease and to adapt to it.

The rehabilitation methods available to MS patients have traditionally been face-to-face courses and personal physiotherapy. More recently, the Internet has enabled some forms of on-line rehabilitation. Whilst the novelty of rehabilitation courses facilitated by the Internet technology is attractive for the participation factor, the studies on rehabilitation on the Internet are still a few. Nevertheless, rehabilitation studies are important for both practitioners and scientists.

The Finnish MS Society has arranged some Internet courses, and I studied two of them titled, ”Power and support from the net”. The study concentrates on the feasibility of the Internet for rehabilitation, and the focus of the study is in the virtual communities, the sociability, and socio-technical capital. The study is multidisciplinary concerning Information and Communication Technology (ICT), but also involving knowledge from Social Sciences and Medicine.

The results show that the Internet is feasible for MS rehabilitation courses, with some restrictions. The descriptions of the courses, the scenario of the Internet courses as triggers for long-term virtual communities, and the suggestions for utilizing new social media technology as the technical environment are important new knowledge my study offers. A binding force for a community is the strong commitment of the community members. Support, empathy, and trust are essential features, which many other health care researches mention. But on the contrary to many studies I will emphasize the importance of the members’ personal knowing as an enabler of trust instead of anonymous communication.

This investigation offers new ways and practical instructions in organizing the MS rehabilitation. The results can be utilized, except in the planning of the new rehabilitation methods for MS, but also in rehabilitation of other long-term diseases, like cancer or diabetes.

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