New Report Analyzes Social Media's Evolving Role In Helping Prevent And Manage Chronic Disease

Jan 30, 2014, 09:00 ET from eHealth Initiative

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new eHealth Initiative (eHI) report finds that social media can reduce the burden of chronic disease on the U.S. health system by providing real-time access to care, information, and support that empowers patients to achieve personal health goals, correct high-risk behavior, and better manage chronic conditions. However, there are challenges that need to be addressed before social media can reach its full potential.

Today, more than 133 million Americans have one or more chronic conditions, contributing to approximately 75 percent of overall healthcare spending. Chronic disease is not only the most costly and common health problem, it is also the most preventable; many conditions are caused or exacerbated by behavioral risk factors and unhealthy lifestyle choices that can be modified. As Americans increasingly use the Internet, social media is emerging as a major form of communication that can overcome traditional geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers to information and support. Millions of adults are connecting with other patients, caregivers, and medical professionals through social media platforms such as message boards, blogs, microblogs, or social networking sites to discuss how to cope with the demands of a chronic disease, share strategies to achieve a healthier lifestyle, or simply talk about their experience with a condition or treatment.

This report identifies multiple challenges that need to be addressed if social media is going to evolve into a key form of health communication in the U.S., including:

  • Digital divide among elderly and minority populations;
  • Balancing transparency and anonymity;
  • Concerns about privacy and HIPAA compliance;
  • Quality, validity, and authenticity of information online.

"As social media practices continue to mature, they will support patient-centered care by redefining communication among peers, patients, and health providers. While we may still be in the early stages of adoption and use, it is clear from this research that stakeholders must work together to address challenges such as misinformation, and harness the incredible potential of social media," said Jennifer Covich Bordenick, Chief Executive Officer of eHI. 

The report is the result of a qualitative research project which was informed by a literature review and environmental scan of the field, including case studies and informant interviews with key organizations and experts. Support for this report was provided by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF).

The researchers found that social media empowers users to achieve personal health goals, correct high-risk behavior, and better manage chronic conditions. Patient empowerment can contribute to an individual's sense of self-efficacy and control of health by developing the knowledge, ability, and motivation to actively take personal responsibility for health behavior. Social media platforms provide a unique social network of support, motivation, and education that can accompany individuals across the continuum of a disease. 

"When patients are networked with each other, caregivers, and health care organizations, they go from being passive to being active in their health," said Glen Moy, senior program officer at the California HealthCare Foundation. "There is potential for social media to advance the prevention and management of chronic illness by expanding access to care and information for patients with serious illness."

The rapid introduction of social media into the world of healthcare has presented both challenges and opportunities. Although the use of social media has proliferated among some populations, it has lagged among others due to a digital divide. Concerns around privacy, transparency, and anonymity continue to be a barrier among late adopters, and information overload and fatigue are beginning to slow sustained use among early adopters. Additionally, because social media content is user-generated, the quality, validity, and authenticity of information can be inconsistent. Consumers, developers, and healthcare organizations must therefore develop better eHealth literacy, and create policies that mitigate the risks of sharing personally identifiable information.

Click here to read the full report.

About eHealth Initiative (eHI): eHI is an independent, multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization based in Washington DC whose mission is to drive improvements in the quality, safety, and efficiency of healthcare through information and technology. For more information, visit

About California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF): CHCF works as a catalyst to fulfill the promise of better health care for all Californians. We support ideas and innovations that improve quality, increase efficiency, and lower the costs of care. For more information, visit

SOURCE eHealth Initiative