Online discussion groups


Online discussion groups are situated on websites, and support users to enter into conversation with one or more people by typing in messages.

This takes place either via a bulletin board/forum system, or a live chat system. The main difference between the two is that the former is not dependent on all contributors taking part at the same time whilst the latter requires participants to be present at the same time as messages are relayed instantaneously as they are typed and entered, usually powered by Java.


  • Web portals such as offer a number of live chat rooms including this chat example aimed at older people which takes place weekly at a fixed time
  • Can be used to consult with the public on proposed service or policy changes such as the government’s eConsultations
  • Live chats can take place either as one off special events where particular experts or groups can arrange to meet and chat online at a particular time, or as constantly available chat spaces
  • LINks exchange offers an online forum regarding patient and public involvement 
  • Forums or bulletin boards such as this mental health example can provide support and advice from peers or experts
  • Could be used by clinicians to host private, invitation only, virtual support groups for particular sets of individuals or for staff members

Benefits and advantages

  • Support from those with experience
  • Ability to get a response from somebody- of feeling listened to
  • Can include expert advice as well as experiential advice to those with long term medical conditions
    Can provide comfort and community to isolated or housebound people as well as practical information and support – many discussions are ‘off topic’ – not relating directly to the health issue in question
  • Not necessarily time-dependent, forums can be posted to at any hour
  • Enables people separated by distance to communicate with one another

Risks and disadvantages

  • Information on boards or typed in chat rooms is not always monitored by experts- some information may be misleading or even harmful
  • There is a need to rely on the individual to make the distinction between good and bad advice for themselves
  • Forums discussing particular issues may need to be moderated carefully to discourage too many off topic conversations. A space for off topic should be provided in forums and chatrooms.




Armchair Involvement Guide 2009 

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