Using social media to empower people with arthritis

Online social networking sites such as Facebook are used for individuals and organizations to connect with others, share photos and videos, as well as provide status updates by posting to a profile page.  Can they also be used as a tool to implement a health care education program?

A group of researchers, including Dr. Lucie Brosseau, School of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Ottawa, and Dr. Sydney Brooks, Director of Research, The Arthritis Society, Ontario Division, completed a study to answer this very question.

The study, entitled: People getting a grip on arthritis II: An innovative strategy to implement clinical practice guidelines for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis patients through Facebook, set out to  determine if an updated online evidence-based educational program delivered through Facebook was effective in improving the knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy of patients with arthritis (osteoarthritis – OA – and rheumatoid arthritis – RA) in relation to evidence-based self-management rehabilitation strategies.

The study included 110 participants over 18 with self-reported OA or RA. Eleven participants were part of a focus group that would choose effective self-management strategies for OA and RA for posting on Facebook. The other 99 were part of the online Facebook study, which featured case-based video clips on the self-management strategies and how to apply them.

“Since this was a new approach to patient education, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hopeful we might reach a new group of people who were comfortable using technology to participate in arthritis research and education,” says Dr. Brooks.
It turns out many arthritis sufferers were interested in participating in the study.

“Our biggest surprise was the ease in recruitment,” adds Dr. Brooks. “Once the study was advertised on The Arthritis Society website, we reached our required sample size quickly.”

Over a three-month period, all participants were asked to complete three online questionnaires regarding their previous knowledge, intention to actually use the self-management strategies and confidence level in the self-management of their arthritis. Ultimately, a goal of the research team was to discover after the study that using Facebook would be an effective, low-cost solution to providing people with arthritis across the country with information about  self-management strategies.

The first focus group’s watched a two-hour presentation describing the self-management strategies. The group then engaged in discussions and ranked each strategy according to the relevance and practicality.

The online study participants received a brief tutorial on how to use the Facebook page to complete the online questionnaires.They logged in to the Facebook group pages to view the uploaded YouTube videos describing the arthritis self-management strategies. The videos were only posted after participants had completed the first questionnaire regarding previous knowledge. Once the videos were viewed, participants could communicate with one another via the ‘wall’ and ‘comment’ tools available and complete the other two online questionnaires (intention to use strategies and confidence level).

In the end, the research team was happy with the results. Immediately after the online study, 41  participants with OA had improved knowledge on the topic of arthritis self-management strategies, while 22 participants with RA had improved knowledge. Eighty-three per cent of participants with OA and 74 per cent of participants with RA intended to use at least one of the arthritis self-management strategies following the study. Some of these strategies included aquatic therapy, strengthening exercises of the hand and weight management.

“Our positive results support the use of social media as a knowledge transfer and education tool, even among an older population,” says Dr. Brooks. “Facebook was a successful tool for recruiting research participants and disseminating evidence-based self-management strategies to people living with arthritis. This low-cost intervention allowed people with arthritis from across Canada to learn about evidence-based self-management strategies in the privacy and comfort of their own home,” she adds.

Not only can the participants continue to use the videos on Facebook as a learning tool, they can share this information with others who suffer from arthritis.

For more information about The Arthritis Society’s research activities, visit