Date Submitted: Feb 16, 2018
Open Peer Review Period: Feb 17, 2018 - Apr 14, 2018
Background: Social Network Sites (SNSs) are increasingly being used to exchange health information from patients and practitioners/pharmaceutical companies/research centers. Research contributions have explored the contents discussed online, categorized the topics, and explored their engagement levels. Objective: This research aims at investigating the potential role of Social Networks Site (SNSs) in Healthcare. Specifically it provides a clustering of health information available on SNSs and creates an initial research design that would allow the use of this information to enhance healthcare delivery. In addition, this research aims at testing whether SNSs valid tools for sharing drug related information by patients. Methods: The research is based on a specific chronic disease: Multiple Sclerosis. We searched the SNS Facebook and looked at all existing groups on this condition. The analysis was restricted to public groups for privacy concerns. We created a database by downloading posts from two main groups on which we performed a content analysis and a statistical analysis; this allowed us to discriminate between categories, their engagement level, and type of posts shared. The mean of engagement for each topic was analyzed using one-way ANOVA and followed up by pairwise comparisons using TukeyHSD. Results: On a sample of 7029 posts, initial results show that there are 8 categories of topics that have resonance (percentage of times the topic appears in our sample) with those who post on Facebook: Patient Support (3.09%), Information/Awareness (70.02%), Event Advertising and Petitions (5.19%), Products and Drugs Advertising (0.68%), Fundraising (5.04%), Clinical Trials or Research Studies (0.84%), Drug Discussion (2.05%), and Other (14.14%). Initial analysis shows that “comments” and “likes” (as measures of engagement level) are more frequently used than other measures of engagement. The results show high engagement level (in terms of views, likes, comments, etc.) for Patient support, Information/Awareness. In addition, although Drug Discussion had low resonance it had unexpected highly engagement level which we found worthy of further exploration. Conclusions: SNSs have become important tools for patients and healthcare practitioners to share or seek information. We identify the type of information shared and how the public reacts to it. Our research confirms that the categories of topics discussed in social media related to specific diseases are appropriate as they are similar to the categories observed by other researchers. Additionally, we found other categories such as drug discussion which was unexpected. This and other results of our study enhance our understanding of how contents are disseminated and perceived within a specific disease based community. We conclude that this information has useful implications in the design of prevention campaigns, educational programs, and chronic disease management.