Docs should show online social support, report says

When patients are diagnosed with a new acute or chronic illness, the Internet is often one of the first places they share the news when they get home from the doctor's office, suggests a new report from Minneapolis marketing firm Russell Herder.

Using software to search for phrases, such as "I've been diagnosed with," researchers tabulated online self-disclosures about various health conditions via Facebook, Twitter, online message boards, and blogs (personal, health-related, and news). Of the 62,893 health disclosures tracked during the 90-day study period, 51 percent of such comments occurred in blogs, 10 percent on Facebook (not counting the majority of user profiles with higher privacy settings), and seven percent on Twitter. As for particular diagnoses, patients discussed cancer (especially breast cancer) most often, followed by diabetes and chronic fatigue.

While the prevalence of online disclosures may in part reflect changing preferences in how people communicate with friends and family, researchers also noted that patients often post to seek emotional support from others who have the same condition. "Such virtual comments may also be a reflection of a need for support not being met by providers, family, and friends," they wrote.

For providers, therefore, this trend represents an opportunity to meet patients' growing demand for online health information and support. Keeping appropriate boundaries in mind, "providers and organizations that support them should make sure that they are providing appropriate resources for their patients on all levels," the report states.

"There's real value to the patient to be able to provide more effective emotional support platforms," Brian Herder, executive creative director of Russell Herder, told InformationWeek Healthcare. "But that's an undeveloped area with regard to social media. So we're saying there is an opportunity to begin to offer emotional support immediately upon diagnosis, as opposed to further on in the treatment process."

To learn more:
- read the article from InformationWeek
- see the report from Russell Herder (.pdf)