Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health report that the popular social networking site has served as a positive tool for a clinic treating young adults with HIV. The site’s group function helped the clinic maintain engagement and create an environment of support for members. The study comes amid news that Facebook is exploring plans to create a health care application that would allow users to connect in online “support communities” based on various ailments.
“The high volume of mostly voluntary and spontaneous activity observed on the page during the study period indicates that the young adults in the program are open to engaging with this technology and that they obtain benefit from using it,” say the study’s authors, Dr. Stephen Arpadi, Mailman School professor of Epidemiology and professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, MPH graduates in Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health Ms. Anna Gayansky and Ms. Kathryn Romansky-Poulin, who is now at Spencer Cox Center for Health, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
While small, the study portrays an overwhelmingly positive and health-promoting experience for the teens and young adults who were members of the HIV clinic’s Facebook group. Not only did group members stay in better contact with the organization through the Facebook group, but it served as a forum for support and encouragement for maintaining positive health behaviors such as taking HIV medication regularly.
People who are satisfied with their level of social support are more likely to adopt healthy coping strategies and experience a slower onset of HIV-related symptoms.
The researchers studied 16 months worth of content posted between 2011 and 2012—amounting to nearly 4,000 posts and comments—from the clinic’s private Facebook group. At the time of the study, the clinic had 75 people enrolled in its young adult program, 43 of whom posted on the Facebook page at least once during the study period. Of that number, 33 were African-American and 10 were Hispanic.
The study found that the page was most often used for facilitating the logistics of the young adult program such as event reminders, meeting announcements and feedback on different aspects of the program. The clinic staff also saw it as an effective way to get in touch when they could not reach group members through other means of communication.