HEADLINES Published August6, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Facebook Reminders May Be Helpful for Teens with Asthma

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A study found that a Facebook group for teens with asthma helped them with their condition.
(Photo : Getty Images)

A study has found that a social media site can help teens with asthma. A study of teens with asthma found significant improvement in engagement and in symptom control when they received reminders and encouragement via Facebook from their doctors and from other teens with asthma.

The study looked at a private Facebook group set up for asthma patients aged 14 to 17 by Partners Connected Health (formerly known as the Center for Connected Health) and the Department of Pulmonology at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Facebook group was password-protected and could only be viewed by invited users. The teens who enrolled in the study could take the Asthma Control Test (ACT), a survey intended to measure asthma control.

Clinicians and researchers sent monthly reminders along with occasional educational information to each member of the Facebook group. The alerts would show up just like any other Facebook notification, making the reminders easy to access.

After 12 months, the researchers saw a 79% "engagement" with teens in the study group, compared to the typical rate of 18%. Engagement with the ACT is defined as taking the test at least once per month for a year.

Patients reported a mean ACT score of 21 on a scale of 1 to 25, an improvement of 1.47 points over a control group. A score lower than 20 indicates problems with asthma control, so the Facebook group raised the average study participant's score into the good range. A score of 14 or lower is considered critical.  In this trial, a score that low would prompt notifications to pulmonary specialists, who could then personally intervene with them because they were at risk for serious problems.

The researchers said that patient-generated information such as created through this type of a Facebook group, is particularly useful for chronic and "silent" conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or asthma. These are diseases that may not have symptoms on a day to day basis, but where poor disease control could cause lasting damage and lead to hospitalizations or even premature death.

The early results of this study were presented at the mHealth + Telehealth World conference held in Boston. 

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