Ever since Facebook hit the scene seven years ago, social networking sites for specialized communities have proliferated. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of diabetes, where there are seemingly countless options for people looking for support, information, or just a sounding board of other people with diabetes. But as a recent study makes clear, diabetes-specific social networks vary considerably in their setup, oversight, and sponsorship status.
That study, published late last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was the subject of a Reuters article on social networking options. As the article points out, the study reviewed 15 diabetes-related social networking sites ranging in membership from about 3,000 to more than 300,000. Of those 15 sites, 12 accept advertisements from drug or medical device companies and are partially or fully funded by such companies. Exceptions include TuDiabetes and the forums of the American Diabetes Association; these sites rely on donations and foundations to sustain their operation. Some sites, such as Diabetes Daily, receive funding from a mix of commercial sponsors and nonprofit sources.
Most diabetes networking sites, according to the study authors, have minimal if any involvement by a doctor or other medical professional. Some do, however, have a moderator who checks forums for medical accuracy. According to the study’s lead author, Dr. William Shrank of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, some people with diabetes may feel more comfortable in a forum that is not overseen by a doctor but instead consists primarily of people with diabetes giving advice to each other. Others, however, may be looking for a professional opinion in between doctor visits. Regardless of the credentials of any moderator or overseer, he or she cannot give a diagnosis or prescribe a course of treatment, but rather only convey information.
Do you belong to any diabetes-focused social networks or regularly participate in diabetes discussion boards? What do you, or would you, look for in such a site? Do you see social networks as fulfilling a purpose similar to, or different from, medical information sites like DiabetesSelfManagement.com? Leave a comment below!