Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 34 Number 2 2017 pp. 487-519

How Doctors Gain Social and Economic Returns in Online Health-Care Communities: A Professional Capital Perspective

Guo, Shanshan, Guo, Xitong, Fang, Yulin, and Vogel, Doug


An online health-care community (OHC) is a novel channel through which doctors share medical or health-care knowledge with patients. While the sustainable development of an OHC relies on doctors’ participation, we have limited information on how doctors can gain benefits from OHCs. In attempting to close this knowledge gap, we examine the determinants of social and economic returns of doctors at OHCs by extending the social exchange theory into the professional domain. The notion of professional capital, as a set of renewable resources for social professionals developed by good education within a territory of social practice, is introduced to understand the unique resources available to doctors for social exchange. Specifically, we examine the effects of status capital and decisional capital (two dimensions of professional capital) on doctors’ social and economic returns. Moreover, we explore how such effects differ across different doctor groups. The results show that, in addition to the widespread pursuit of celebrity doctors (who can be recognized by their high status capital) offline, the doctor’s decisional capital is also an important professional component in maintaining exchange returns at OHCs. This study provides empirical evidence of the relationship between professional capital and the exchange returns, and extends prior research on OHCs through a professional capital perspective with implications for theory and practice.

Key words and phrases: online communities, online health-care community, professional capital, social exchange theory