Self-management improves in diabetes groups on the Net

Participating in diabetes groups on the Internet may improve self-management of the illness and encourage lifestyle changes, according to new doctoral research from the Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine (NST).

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Network analyses provide new insight into the links between health outcomes and participation in Internet groups, explains researcher Taridzo Chomutare. The dots indicate users in an Internet forum and the lines show the connections between them. The size of the dots shows how active the individual user is in the Internet forum. Chomutare’s research suggests that active Internet participants achieve better self-management of their health. Illustration: Taridzo Chomutare

Provides health benefits

Participants who are more active in diabetes groups on the Internet manage their illness better, new research shows. They are often involved in several groups at the same time, and they tend to have a key role in the network.

“We can see that the way people participate in social media is related to the health benefits that the individual achieves,” says researcher Taridzo Chomutare at the Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine (NST).

In research for his doctoral degree, Chomutare explored the ways that people with diabetes participate in social communities on the Internet. Examples of health benefits include improved management of blood glucose levels and greater success in achieving lifestyle changes.

“The way that individual members behave in diabetes communities on the Internet may be a predictor of long-term health outcomes.” 

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Taridzo Chomutare has explored whether participation in diabetes and weight loss groups on the Internet influences individual self-management of the disease. Photo: NST

Little knowledge about Internet groups and health outcomes

“How participation in Internet groups affects self-management of illness is an area where research is scarce,” says Chomutare.

First, he mapped the kinds of social media and content pages that are internationally available on the Internet for people with diabetes. He found Facebook groups, dedicated discussion forums, blogs, wikis and a variety of social media.

Then he looked for connections between participation in Internet communities and individuals’ mastery of their own illness.

"We used open, available information about health status, such as weight loss, and tried out algorithms to find patterns in relationships in the networks.

High participation online

Social media and Internet groups for patients have become widespread in today’s society. But we still know very little about how and why participation in the groups has an effect.

“Large numbers of people are involved in such groups, and for that reason alone it is important for us to learn more about the phenomenon,” says Chomutare. “When tomorrow’s Internet tools are designed, such knowledge may be helpful.”

Taridzo Chomutare"Complex Network Structure Patterns in Open Internet Communities for People with Diabetes"