Social networking sites have pros, cons for patients with chronic disease

December 23, 2010

Be aware of the strengths and limitations of social networking sites such as Facebook when discussing sources of medical information with patients who have chronic diseases. That?s the advice from researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women?s Hospital who studied online communities related to diabetes and reported their findings recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Be aware of the strengths and limitations of social networking sites such as Facebook when discussing sources of medical information with patients who have chronic diseases. That’s the advice from researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital who studied online communities related to diabetes and reported their findings recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Patients who have a chronic disease such as diabetes may find it appealing that they can relay their experiences, ask questions, and communicate with others who have the disease online, and Facebook may offer public health benefits, but site users also may encounter inaccurate information from unverifiable sources as well as ads and the collection of their personal data.

Jeremy A. Greene, MD, PhD, and colleagues downloaded the 15 most recent wall posts and the 15 most recent discussion topics from the 10 largest groups on Facebook dedicated to the management of diabetes. They identified 480 unique users in 690 comments and evaluated the comments.

The investigators found that about two-thirds of the comments included unsolicited information, more than one-fourth of the posts contained ads for products not approved by the FDA as well as other promotional testimonials, and 13% of the comments contained requests for personal information.

Health professionals may consider starting and monitoring their own social networking sites to offer accurate, unbiased information, the authors say.