In an era when social networking sites and blogs are visited by three quarters of online users, it’s only natural that the medical profession would also tap into the power of social media tools.
Caroline Richardson, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor), and her colleagues found that adding an interactive online community to an Internet-based walking program significantly decreased the number of participants who dropped out.
Seventy-nine percent of participants who used online forums to motivate each other stuck with the 16-week program. Only 66 percent of those who used a version of the site without the social components completed the program. Still, both groups saw equal improvements in how much they walked while using the program’s web interface to track their progress – about a mile per day.
The findings, scheduled to be published this month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, show that adding community features to online health programs can be a powerful tool for reducing attrition, says Richardson, the study’s lead author. The approach also has the potential to produce significant savings compared to traditional interventions, such as face-to-face coaching, which are expensive to do on a large scale.