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ADVANCE Voice: NP

Social Networking Sites for Health Care

Published May 6, 2008 9:32 AM by Jennifer Ford

Social networking Web sites are not and have not been just for gossiping teenagers for years now. Groups formed on sites like MySpace and Facebook serve all kinds of purposes, from political campaigning to fundraising for charities. And in the last few years, users of these sites have been able to come together to talk about health care.  

For example, DailyStrength.org is a networking site for patients and caregivers to share information about many different health issues, including mental and physical health as well as other "personal challenges" such as divorce or bereavement. Yahoo! and WebMD have ramped up their user communities. There are also many sites meant to provide a community for those with specific diseases, such as PatientsLikeMe.comICYou.com has been called the YouTube of health care. And organizations like the American Cancer Society have been experimenting with sites such as SecondLife.com, which aims to help increase awareness about nutrition, cancer screenings, and infectious disease prevention. The American Cancer Society even used the site to raise money for the Relay for Life, a large-scale yearly fundraising event for cancer research and prevention. And here at ADVANCE we're starting to do the same: creating forums and blogs so NPs can communicate, and ADVANCE for Physician Assistants even has its own Facebook group!

An article published recently by iHealthBeat encourages providers to steer consumers toward social networking sites for health care information. The author, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, makes a very important observation:

The erosion of peoples' faith in government and business leads us to find trust elsewhere. The first place we're going to look is with our peers.

Edelman, a global communications firm, has conducted the annual Trust Barometer survey since 2000. Two years ago, Edelman cited a new trend in its 2006 Trust Barometer: the steady decline of trust in traditional figures of authority, and the increase in the credibility of the "average person." The beginning of the trend was a huge spike in trust for a "person like yourself or your peer" from 22% in 2003 to 68% in 2006.

Sarasohn-Kahn notes also that there could be a risk of misinformation. If people trust their peers and their community more than they trust institutions, health care providers need to be sure they are part of that community to ensure they provide quality care. Patients are going to continue accessing these sites for help and information, so a good way to ensure they receive corrent information is becoming involved in these rapidly growing health care netoworking sites.

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