Study: Facebook support group increases patient engagement, satisfaction

By Laura Lovett
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Social media, and Facebook groups in particular, could be a helpful tool for increasing patient engagement and satisfaction, according to a study published in Surgery

“In this qualitative pilot study, we have found that incorporation of [social media] into clinical practice using Facebook is not only feasible but can provide a substantial benefit to patients, with 95 percent of survey respondents reporting that the Facebook group had an overall positive impact on their care,” the authors of the study wrote. “Additionally, such initiatives are sustainable because the number of members increased by approximately 10 percent to 15 percent per month and the number of posts per month remained stable over the course of the study period.”

Researchers created a Facebook group for liver transplant patients to use as a virtual community forum. Family members and caregivers, as well as health care providers, were able to participate in the group. In total 350 users joined the group over the nine-month study. Of that 50 percent were liver transplant patients, 36 percent were caregivers and friends, and 14 percent were healthcare providers. 

Over the course of the study users contributed 339 posts, 2,338 comments, and 6,274 reactions to the group. Researchers found that 98 percent of the posts were reacted to or commented on by other members of the group. 

Patients were the most active users in the group, contributing 64 percent of the posts and 61 percent of the reactions. Researchers found that “supportive or inspirational content” was the most common type of post in the group, followed by informational posts. 

After the study ended researchers asked participants to fill out a survey, which 63 of the 350 users completed. The survey takers came from a somewhat limited demographic; more than 90 percent of responders were white and most were female (75 percent), which the researchers noted was a limitation.

Patients were most likely to share supportive posts and comments. Many patients also shared personal experiences and advice. In the post-study survey 97 percent of responders said their primary reason for participating in the group was to provide or receive support from other patients.

“These patients share common stressors related to experiencing physical and psychosocial symptoms associated with end-stage liver disease, dealing with the uncertainty of waiting for an available organ, and managing strict medication regimens,” authors in the study wrote. “Our findings support this notion, because 44 percent of survey respondents reported they were unlikely to participate in a similar group for primary care or other subspecialties because they felt the online support group was unique to transplantation.”

Caregivers were also more likely to post supportive comments than any other kind of comment. Healthcare providers were most likely to share informational posts, with 82 percent of healthcare survey takers reportedly posting this type of content. 

The patients who took the survey seemed to be active Facebook users, the researchers wrote. Seventy-five percent of patients who took the survey reported checking the Facebook page at least once a day, and 24 percent reported checking the page multiple times a day. 

However, the number of survey takers was limited. The authors said that in the future more studies should be done to evaluate the impact of social media initiatives for post-transplant care patients. 

“Our work presented here is an important contribution to the understanding of the impact [social media] has on patient engagement and satisfaction for surgical patients, specifically those undergoing [liver transplant],” the authors wrote. “As use of [social media] sites continues to expand, surgical programs must begin to embrace their potential to facilitate delivery of patient-centered care, which can have marked implications for patients and centers alike. “