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User Beware: Online Patient Communities Have a Down Side

One of the dangers of social media is that anyone can post health content and there is no way to guarantee quality. The information individuals or businesses post may be inaccurate or misleading. This is one of the things that troubles me about online patient communities. Recently, researchers at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that “more than one in four comments on Facebook diabetes communities is promotional in nature, generally for unapproved products.” You can read more about their findings in Matthew Arnold’s article here: http://www.mmm-online.com/in-wild-west-of-facebook-sites-snakeoil-salesmen-abound/article/190109/.

Researchers looked at the 15 largest Facebook communities for diabetes patients and caregivers. Although the researchers found some health benefits of social media in the management of chronic disease, they also discovered that many of the Facebook diabetes communities contained a large amount of ambiguous information. Both physicians and patients should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of social media sites for patient communities. Policy makers should enforce transparency among advertisers and the promotional sponsors of these sites so as to not mislead patients and caregivers about the source and motive behind the information they are receiving.

You can review Matthew Arnold’s article in Medical Marketing & Media: http://www.mmm-online.com/in-wild-west-of-facebook-sites-snakeoil-salesmen-abound/article/190109/.

Post by Dan Dunlop with Stephanie Cohen, UNC-Chapel Hill Student and Jennings Intern

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