Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital explored the characteristics of social media sites for diabetics and their potential to promote patient health, finding that online social networks may improve health promotion.
Published in the September edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine , William H. Shrank, MD, from the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics, department of medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues conducted a survey of online social networking sites to explore characteristics of social media communities and to better inform physicians and patients about the choices available to them.
The researchers evaluated and abstracted data from 15 online social networking website focused on diabetes.
Membership ranged from 3,074 to more than 300,000 patients; three sites had more than 150,000 members, eight had more than 10,000 members, while two were confidential and one was unavailable, the authors found. “Eighty percent of the sites directly linked to Facebook and 67 percent linked to Twitter. All but two of the sites had an explicit membership process, a requirement to post a comment.”
According to the authors, the level and type of health professional participation varied across the sites. Site administrators reviewed the content of posts in 67 percent of the sites. And in 47 percent of the sites, administrators responded directly to questions from the members.
“Physicians were available to answer questions in 33 percent of the sites but systematically scanned postings and offered feedback in only 7 percent of postings. More than half of the sites used diabetes educators to answer member questions and in 13 percent they scanned member discussions.
“Online social networks may play an increasing role in health promotion, as primary care physicians are asked to see increasing numbers of patients, limiting time for telephone consultations to answer questions related to chronic disease management, and as a web-savvy population ages and develops more chronic diseases,” the authors remarked. “Existing sites differ in their approach toward communication structure, authenticity and quality oversight, expert participation, and advertising or sources of funding. These metrics may be important to patients when selecting a community and may be of interest to healthcare providers who ultimately may advise patients about their particular needs.”
Shrank and colleagues concluded with a call for further research regarding these metrics to explore patient and healthcare provider perceptions to build an evidence-based database to encourage social network development that will promote patient health.