Keywords: Social Media; Facebook; Diabetes; Peer Support; Patient Engagement; Health Literacy.
With this study we aimed to explore the role of social media in the healthcare context by analysing how Facebook can represent a tool to foster patient education and engagement within the context of chronic care. More specifically, we have explored how Facebook is used by patients with diabetes (and by their relatives) to share information and/or discuss issues relevant for managing their disease. This is a preliminary explorative study, with a quantitative phase where a survey was administered to 119 patients with diabetes and Facebook users, and qualitative phase where a sample of interactions among members of a Facebook group for patients with diabetes and their relatives was inductively analysed. The qualitative analysis showed how participating in the Facebook group has the main function of sharing information on how to manage diabetes, followed by having the function of emotionally support patients. The results from the survey confirmed these findings and revealed how patients using Facebook groups for diabetes are usually more engaged in their care, with good health literacy levels, and low informational needs. Based on these findings, we highlight the potential relevance of these online groups and communities to promote peer support; they can indeed represent important tools to improve the abilities of patients to self-manage their disease and their motivation in playing an active role in the care process.