How social media can combat chronic disease

Social media can help combat chronic illness, according to a new eHealth Initiative report.

The report states social media and online communities can enhance health education by promoting healthy eating, active living and wellness--addressing many of the preventable problems that lead to chronic disease, which plagues more than 133 million Americans and contributes to about 75 percent of the country's healthcare spending. 

Social media--including message boards, blogs, microblogs and social networking sites--breaks down the walls of patient-provider communication, improves access to health information and provides a new channel for peer-to-peer communication among healthcare providers, consumers and family members, according to the report. It also helps providers develop meaningful relationships that provide emotional support for patients with chronic conditions, establish communities among caregivers, patients and families, and empowers patients to achieve their objectives with online peer support.

The report identified best practices recommendations for implementing wide-spread use of social media within the healthcare industry, including the need to:

  • Develop multiple functionalities to allow users to exchange nformation at the same time; 

  • Establish online roles for trained health providers and caregivers to give accurate information;

  • Provide dynamic privacy controls and use requirements;

  • Incorporate user-centered designs with relevant, helpful features;

  • Provide an open, safe environment where users can comfortably share information;

  • Apply evidence-based behavioral theory to use social networks for peer support and motivation;

  • Redefine the patients' roles by empowering them with information; and

  • Leverage long-lasting community ties to sustain user engagement.

However, with little precedence regarding social media in the medical community, the report acknowledges there are challenges to adapting social media as a major tool for information dissemination. Privacy laws and sharing personal information online are a major concern, as well as the quality and validity regarding healthcare information. There's also a digital divide among the elderly and minority populations, the report states.

Many healthcare organizations are taking advantage of social media already.Hospitals across the country are turning to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest to recruit patients and their families to serve as advisors, asking for their opinions via questionnaires and surveys on planned improvements in care, new services and even facility names, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the report