Study designs of evaluations included in the review
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), controlled trials, interrupted time series, cohort and before-and-after studies were eligible for inclusion.
Specific interventions included in the review
Virtual community interventions focusing on emotional and social support, health education, or health-related behaviour change, were eligible for inclusion. A virtual community was defined as a group of individuals with similar or common health-related interests, and predominantly non-professional backgrounds, who interact and communicate publicly through a computer communication network. In the majority of the included studies, the virtual community intervention was part of a multi-component intervention involving other psychoeducational or treatment components such as written material or one-to-one support from health professionals. The comparators in the controlled trials were diverse.
Participants included in the review
The inclusion criteria for the participants were not stated. The included studies were of diverse participants, including adults and children. There were patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, breast cancer, depression, heart and kidney disease, diabetes and eating disorders, and patients on weight loss programmes and smoking cessation programmes.
Outcomes assessed in the review
Studies assessing knowledge, health, psychological, or social outcomes were eligible for inclusion. The most commonly assessed outcomes in the included studies were depression, social support, health care use, eating disorder, weight loss, diabetes control and duration of smoking abstinence.
How were decisions on the relevance of primary studies made?
Two reviewers independently assessed the relevance of studies and any disagreements were resolved by consensus.