While social media is great for organizing rebellions, sharing pictures of cats, and maybe even selling people stuff, some of its most useful applications may be in unexpected areas like health care. In the Netherlands, for example, doctors have found that social media can improve care for patients with chronic disease by encouraging patients to interact with doctors and adhere to care regimens.
In one recent study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, titled “Using Online Health Communities to Deliver Patient-Centered Care to People With Chronic Conditions,” researchers at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center investigated the impact of patient and doctor participation in three different “online health communities” devoted to Parkinson’s disease -- part of a nationwide network known as ParkinsonNet, which consists of 66 local networks throughout the Netherlands. These include “closed” OHCs, available only to doctors and patients of a particular clinic, and “open” OHCs, which are available to doctors, patients, and family, regardless of which clinic they go to. The OHCs include various social media features like blogs, chats, discussion forums, and wiki-type information resources.
The study found that OHCs have positive impacts on chronic disease care including increasing interdisciplinary collaboration between doctors from different fields and institutions, enabling patients to share information with each other despite geographic distance, and enhancing patient capabilities for self-management. The authors note: “Chronic patients using online communication tools become more knowledgeable, feel better socially supported and empowered, and have improved behavioral and clinical outcomes compared to nonusers.”
The study also found benefits from what it termed “personal health communities,” which consist of a patient and the various medical professionals caring for him or her. In addition to also encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration by doctors, PHCs “offer unique opportunities to store all medical information in one central place, while allowing transparent communication across all members of each patient’s health care team.”
Importantly, there’s a financial benefit too, as “the implementation of ParkinsonNet has shown a profound reduction in health care utilization and costs. Participants increased their [disease-specific] knowledge, improved the adherence to guideline recommendations, and treated a higher volume of patients per year.”