Stanford’s Chronic Disease Support Group Now Online, Free

A version of the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, developed by the Patient Education Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is now available for free online. Stanford is partnering with the National Council on Aging to bring the program to the Web. The online version, called Better Choices, Better Health, offers participants many of the same benefits that the in-person workshops have provided for more than a decade, but in the comfort of their own homes. If you’re looking for a chronic disease support group, consider this as an option.

In libraries and community centers across the country, the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program has led group workshops for people to learn more about managing a chronic health condition and to share experiences and insights with others. In the workshops, trained facilitators teach participants with conditions such as diabetes and arthritis about managing pain and fatigue and improving their quality of life. Facilitators, many of whom have a chronic condition themselves, also help participants learn about different treatment options, find suitable ways to exercise and eat healthfully, and communicate more effectively with doctors and loved ones about their conditions.

The online version covers the same topics. Once participants register and answer a few basic questions, they are matched with up to 25 other people for six weeks. Instead of one weekly, face-to-face meeting for two-and-a-half hours, the online program asks that you log on three times a week for a total of about two hours. Once logged on, you will be able to look at materials and to interact with group members and leaders on message boards.

Better Choices, Better Health also allows you to fit the program around your schedule. Participants can choose to log on to the site either on the same days and at the same times each week, or on different days and at different times. Both formats encourage you to visit the Web site and peruse materials as much as you want.

Since you choose your own screen name, Better Choices, Better Health lets you take part anonymously, which may make you feel more comfortable sharing details about your condition. In addition, unlike the in-person workshops, the online program allows you to participate from home, or anywhere with access to the Internet. Even a dial-up connection will do.

Participants in the online version will get the same educational materials as those who take part in the in-person workshops. Those who sign up are sent a free copy of the companion book, Living a Healthy Life With Chronic Conditions, and the audio from the relaxation CD used during the in-person workshops is available at the Better Choices, Better Health online learning center.

The overall focus is the same: choosing reasonable, but meaningful, personal goals, and then meeting them. These goals can be as simple as standing a little longer, or walking a little farther.

Program administrators stress that Better Choices, Better Health is no substitute for consulting with a doctor, instead, the program can help you learn basic self-management skills and get support from people going through a similar experience.

To find out more about Better Choices, Better Health or to sign up, visit the program’s website. You can learn more about the Stanford University Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, on which Better Choices, Better Health is based, on the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Patient Education site. If you’re interested in participating in an in-person workshop, an arthritis-specific workshop is available through the Arthritis Foundation. Called the Arthritis Self-Help Course, the workshop is based on Stanford’s Arthritis Self-Management Program, from which the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program was developed. To find an Arthritis Self-Help Course near you, call the Arthritis Foundation at (800) 283-7800 and ask for the number of your local chapter.

This article was written by Cooper B. Wilhelm, an Editorial Assistant at Arthritis Self-Management.

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