Background: The advent of the Internet has driven a technological revolution that has changed our lives. As part of this phenomenon, social networks have attained a prominent role in health care. A variety of medical services is provided over the Internet, including home monitoring, interactive communications between the patient and service providers, and social support, among others. This study emphasizes some of the practical implications of Web-based health social networks for patients and for health care systems. Objective: The objective of this study was to assess how participation in a social network among individuals with a chronic condition contributed to patient activation, based on the Patient Activation Measure (PAM). Methods: A prospective, cross-sectional survey with a retrospective component was conducted. Data were collected from Camoni, a Hebrew-language Web-based social health network, participants in the diabetes mellitus, pain, hypertension, and depression/anxiety forums, during November 2012 to 2013. Experienced users (enrolled at least 6 months) and newly enrolled received similar versions of the same questionnaire including sociodemographics and PAM. Results: Among 686 participants, 154 of 337 experienced and 123 of 349 newly enrolled completed the questionnaire. Positive correlations (P<.05) were found between frequency and duration of site visits and patient activation, social relationships, and chronic disease knowledge. Men surfed longer than women (X23=10.104, P<.05). Experienced users with diabetes surfed more than those with other illnesses and had significantly higher PAM scores (mean, M=69.3, standard deviation, SD=19.1, PAM level 4; Z=-4.197, P<.001) than new users (M=62.8, SD=18.7, PAM level 3). Disease knowledge directly predicted PAM for all users (β=.26 and .21, respectively). Frequency and duration of social health network use were correlated with increased knowledge about a chronic disease. Experienced surfers had higher PAM than newly enrolled, suggesting that continued site use may contribute to increased activation. Conclusions: Web-based social health networks offer an opportunity to expand patient knowledge and increase involvement in personal health, thereby increasing patient activation. Further studies are needed to examine these changes on other aspects of chronic illnesses such as quality of life and costs.
- Chronic disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Patient Activation Measure (PAM)
- Social media
- Social networks