WALTHAM, Mass. – Social networks can help in health care delivery, especially for the management of chronic diseases and the promotion of healthy behaviors like weight loss and physical activity, according to a recent survey by NEJM Catalyst Insights Council.
“Historically, health care delivery has focused exclusively on individual patients,” wrote Dr. Namita Mohta, clinical editor at NEJM Catalyst, in the survey report. “Peer networks can provide information and community to patients who, otherwise, might struggle alone with a new or existing disease.”
Nearly all survey respondents (99%) said that social networks are potentially useful in health care delivery, and that they see significant opportunity to improve health by either building or leveraging existing social networks.
About three-fourths of respondents—comprised of health care executives, clinical leaders and clinicians—said their organization already uses some type of social network as part of their care delivery platforms.
“The advantage of a social network is the addition of peers— other ‘regular people’ who are in similar situations,” said Dr. Susan Besser of Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea, a physician group in Baltimore. “The ability of people to share their problems and hear what other people use for solutions, or just give support, can help improve health.”
DaVita.com, a kidney disease resource website, uses several social media accounts to engage with community members.
“The content that is shared there can have a direct impact on improving the health of kidney disease patients,” said Dr. Adam Weinstein, vice president of clinical affairs and clinical IT services at DaVita. “Patients also find peer-to-peer support through members-only online communities; this is especially beneficial for those who dialyze at home and may not receive the same peer-to-peer contact as those who choose to dialyze in-center.”
While a majority of organizations are using social platforms as part of their care delivery platforms, 90% of survey respondents said those approaches are not yet fully mature. Sixty percent said when they do mature, the impact on patient engagement, quality of care and provider engagement will be major to moderate.