Online groups are hotbed of promotion
Though the researchers found “tentative support” for the health benefits of social media in the management of chronic disease—reporting patients sharing valuable insights into their conditions that they wouldn't get from their doctor and providing each other emotional support – the volume of dubious information raises red flags.
The study's authors looked at the 15 largest Facebook communities for diabetes patients and caregivers. In addition to the promotional comments, the researchers also identified “numerous instances of surveys, marketing pitches and efforts to recruit patients for clinical trials where the true identity of the poster could not be confirmed.”
The 15 sites had an average of 9,289 participants, and researchers evaluated 690 individual postings by 480 unique users. Twenty-seven percent “featured promotional activity and first-person testimonials around non-FDA approved products and services.”
“There certainly are public health benefits that can be garnered from these sites,” said senior author William Shrank, MD, MSHS, “but patients and doctors need to know it is really the Wild West out there.”
The study was underwritten by CVS Caremark and published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.