Healthcare News & Insights

Social networking sites help patients follow doctors’ orders

There have been a lot of stories recently about how patients are turning to social media sites for information about their health and treatment options. Here’s another benefit of social networking for patients and providers: 

With a doctor’s help, social networking sites can help patients stick to their treatment and wellness regimens.

Patients are more likely to follow plans laid out by their doctors when they use healthcare-specific social networking sites, according to a recent study conducted by the Veterans Health Administration and the University of California-San Francisco.

Researchers looked at a group of epilepsy patients who use the website PatientLikeMe, a social network that connects people with chronic illnesses. A survey found that patients respond better to advice if it comes from someone experiencing the same condition as opposed to a medical professional. Also, the results show that connecting with other patients helps them stick to a treatment plan.

Among the patients surveyed:

  1. 55% agreed the site helped them learn more about seizures
  2. 27% reported it helped them stick to their medication plans
  3. 27% said it helped them reduce the side effects of their medications and other treatments, and
  4. 18% said they needed fewer visits to the emergency room after they began using the site.

Sharing stories and interacting with patients that are going through similar treatments is a big benefit, researchers said, and it’s a benefit many people can’t get without the Internet. In fact, 67% of the patients surveyed said they didn’t know anyone else “in the real world” who suffered from epilepsy.

Some social networks have privacy concerns

In addition to being better able to connect patients dealing with similar issues, health-specific networks often have the added benefit of greater security and privacy. On PatientsLikeMe, for example, patient records are de-identified and made available to others so both doctors and patients can safely and legally view other people’s histories to see what worked and what didn’t.

Doctors can help patients by being aware of what healthcare-centered social networking sites are out there that could benefit certain people and making recommendations accordingly. More options are popping up, and patients may not be aware of what help is available.

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