Social networking may have a positive effect on perceptions of peer support, but it does not lead to significant changes in health outcomes or self-efficacy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to results published in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatology.
Researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial in the United States and Canada from April 2016 to January 2017 to assess the effectiveness of social media in improving the knowledge and health status of patients with RA. The intervention and control groups each contained 105 patients.
Outcomes were measured at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months. Researchers assessed knowledge about RA, self-efficacy in managing RA, and empowerment. They also analyzed patients’ satisfaction with social and peer support, patients’ beliefs about their personal health locus of control, health-related behaviors, mood, and actual health outcomes. .
The intervention group had access to a secret Facebook community where 2 peer leaders living with RA introduced different RA-related discussion topics each week for 26 weeks. Patients in the intervention group communicated freely with each other. The Facebook website was also linked to an educational website providing information about RA. Six of the 105 patients never logged into the Facebook site.
The control group had access to the same educational website as the intervention group; however, they did not participate in social media about RA. The educational website provided a variety of self-guided sources of RA-related information, including a learning center, links to evidence-based RA websites aimed at patient education, news about latest updates from PR companies and organizations and information on chronic disease management strategies. (i.e., goal setting, coping skills, tips for healthy lifestyle and behaviors, and ways to improve communication skills).
Regarding patient engagement, patients in the control group accessed the educational website more than patients in the intervention group (493 times versus 260 times). Patients in the intervention group posted 3,493 comments, with 72% of them doing so regularly at least once a month.
At 3 months and 6 months, 87% and 85% of all patients completed follow-up assessments, respectively. Patient knowledge and self-efficacy improved slightly in both groups after 6 months. Whereas knowledge improved more in the control group (0.4 versus 0.3 points) and self-efficacy improved more in the intervention group (0.7 versus 0.3 points) , no change was statistically significant. No difference in empowerment existed between the groups.
Patients in the intervention group reported greater satisfaction with social and peer support and higher internal locus of control scores than the control group. No differences in mood, health behaviors or health outcomes were observed between the groups.
Limitations of the study include privacy issues with online networks, lack of critical mass on Facebook large enough to impact health outcomes, lack of generalizability to patient populations outside of educated white women and the possibility of patients in either group being involved in other open RA groups during the study.
The authors of the study conclude: “Our virtual community with readily available factual information was well received, but [it did] do not support the concept that these networks can improve changes in health outcomes or self-efficacy in patients with RA.
Lopez-Olivo MA, Foreman JT, Leung C, et al. A randomized controlled trial evaluating the effects of social media on chronic disease management in rheumatoid arthritis. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2022;56:152072. doi:10.1016/j.semarthrit.2022.152072