Facebook engages more than 2 billion people, and adults over the age of 65 are increasingly more active on the site, especially when it comes to health information.
The Journal of Medical Internet Research has published an article in its January 2018 issue that looks at use of Facebook for management of chronic diseases. The authors discussed potential benefits, issues, and recommendations on Facebook group-based patient education for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and coronary heart disease (CHD).
Facebook groups can be a solution to the face-to-face burden of chronic disease rehabilitation group-based programs. On Facebook, individuals can read and post material at any time and from any location, as part of their daily routines. This can foster self-management, and support appropriate behavior if posts deliver detailed information, patient discussions, peer support, and descriptions of worthwhile behaviors, such as exercise.
Facebook groups can also develop collective knowledge, social networking, and peer-to-peer information exchange. For these groups to be used well, researchers need more information about key issues invading group development, implementation, and evaluation.
Limited guidance is available about developing content and effectively engaging people regarding management of T2DM or CHD on social media sites. This would require the engagement of multidisciplinary teams, which is a challenge in itself. Facebook moderators would need to be trained and aware of older adults’ use patterns and communication preferences.
The authors provided recommendations on how to solve these issues.
They suggested health professionals should provide initial group moderation due to the complexities of T2DM and CHF. Enrollment of peer “champions” whose role is to actively encourage participants to engage with each other would facilitate participation and effective communication. With Facebook’s continuous, dynamic conversations, health care institutions need to be flexible in allowing staff real-time for conversation engagement.
Currently, few support groups have been able to provide insights about effective content and communication strategies. Data about engagement and effectiveness is sorely needed. The potential to reduce participant burden of in-person group support programs is credible, but health care clinicians need information about how to moderate Facebook groups properly.
Partridge SR, Gallagher P, Freeman B, Gallagher R. Facebook groups for the management of chronic diseases. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2018;20(1).