Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

Project: AD-HOC

Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of A Digital social intervention for people with troublesome astHma prOmoted by primary care Clinicians (AD-HOC)

Does promoting engagement in an online health community in primary care improve asthma control and quality of life?

The problem:

4.3 million adults live with asthma in the UK; more than a third of them experience troublesome asthma symptoms and many experience anxiety. Supporting self-management for people with long-term conditions like asthma has proved difficult in the past. New approaches are needed.

Online health communities are beginning to be used in healthcare. For example, NHS Digital Facebook groups to promote cancer screening. Evidence that they make a real difference, though, is sparse. We found that in an online health community up to 95% of requests for information received replies. In the Asthma UK community, peer advice helped people with taking their inhalers. Members of the community gained a sense of reward through helping and interacting with peers.

Information and support spread through online communities thanks to a small number of very active ‘superusers' (knowledgeable people who are regularly active online). Superusers act as catalysts to bind an online community together and help to maintain it. Only ten superusers are needed for an online community of 1,000 people to flourish. Patients working with us said that just having someone to talk to, who understands your condition can sometimes be all that is required to relieve anxiety and potentially avoid an exacerbation.

What we’ll do

  1. Through a survey, identify people with troublesome asthma, and via their GP, invite them to join the Asthma UK online health community
  2. Design the best way of evaluating the impact of joining an asthma online health community
  3. Maximise the safety of online communities through developing recommendations for moderators
  4. Find out the best ways to encourage people to participate in our study in 3 GP practices
  5. Using the best research methods, test the impact of joining an online health community on the health of people with troublesome asthma from 50 GP practices

If successful, we will work together with our patient and public involvement (PPI) colleagues to promote this model nationally and internationally for asthma and take it forward for people with other long-term conditions.

Key People

headshot of Anna De Simoni

Anna De Simoni

Chris Griffiths

Chris Griffiths

AD-HOC study lead

Centre co-lead: Patient and Public Involvement

AD-HOC study co-lead

Centre Director and lead: Preventing asthma attacks

Based at: Queen Mary University of London Based at: Queen Mary University of London
Anna's Profile Chris' Profile
headshot of Bill Day

Bill Day

Headshot of Aziz Sheikh

Aziz Sheikh

Volunteer Patient and Public Involvement Patient Lead Centre Director
Based at: University of Edinburgh
Bill's Profile Aziz's Profile
Borislava Mihaylova

Borislava Mihaylova

Headshot of Steph Taylor

Stephanie Taylor

Chair in Health Economics Professor in Public Health and Primary Care
Based at: Queen Mary University of London Based at: Queen Mary University of London
Borislava's Profile Stephanie's Profile

Contact Us

Contact the study team directly via email.

Email the AD-HOC team


We are funded research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (Reference Number NIHR202037). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.


Industry: HealthUnlocked

Charity: Asthma + Lung UK


University of Cambridge | Professor Jonathan Mant

University of Nottingham | Professor Neil Coulson

City, University of London | Professor Richard Ashcroft

University of Surrey | Professor Nishanth Sastry

St George University | Dr Jane Watson

Queen Mary University of London, School of Business and Management | Professor Pietro Panzarasa

Queen Mary University of London, Centre for Psychiatry and Mental Health | Professor Vicky Bird