Online Social Tools Helpful for Patients with Diabetes

It is clear that there will be many opportunities to harness the power of social media networks in healthcare. With chronic diseases like diabetes, one-on-one interventions can be expensive and time consuming for patients and physicians alike. Web-based social networks for diabetes have the potential to supplement care and deliver results that are similar to one-on-one interventions, but at a much lower cost. The challenge for providers will be to optimize strategies that encourage patient participation and to integrate the social media components into the existing healthcare infrastructure. Analysis of Online Interaction In the December 2010 Journal of Medical Internet Research, my colleagues and I published results of a randomized controlled study examining the impact of adding online interaction to a walking program for patients with type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, or obesity. The intervention group had the ability to communicate with other participants and study staff in an online forum. The control group did not have access to the online forum. “Physicians can play a key role in the advancement of internet-based programs and online communities by leveraging existing online resources and directing patients to appropriate sites.” We wanted to learn if access to the forum would impact engagement, retention, and step counts. Equal improvement was observed in step counts for both groups. However, adding an interactive online community to the internet-based walking program significantly improved program retention. Nearly eight in 10 participants (79%) who had access to online forums adhered to the 16-week program, compared with two-thirds (66%) of patients randomly assigned to use a version of the website that didn’t have the social components. Many patients...