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Social Networks For Diabetics: A Mixed Bag, Children's Study Finds

This article is more than 8 years old.

A new look at social networks for diabetics finds an interesting mix of powerful pros and cautionary cons. Among the pros are helpful advice and much-needed support. Among the cons, the Children's blog "Vector" reports here:

Only five of the 10 sites had content in line with diabetes science and clinical practice standards. Some didn’t trouble to communicate the definition of A1c, a biomarker widely used by diabetics to assess blood glucose levels. Others lacked clear, centralized information on having routine checkups, eye exams and lipid profiling, or on smoking cessation—all generally recommended for diabetics. Only three of the 10 sites included a disclaimer encouraging patients to discuss their care regimen with a health care provider.

Seven of the 10 sites didn’t allow members to restrict the visibility of their profiles. Five carried advertisements that weren’t labeled as such. And three went as far as to advertise unfounded “cures.”

Some suggestions for improvement, Vector reports:

Beyond adding basic guidelines for care, defining medical terms and distinguishing ads from other content, researchers Elissa Weitzman and Ken Mandl recommend more moderation—with credentials of moderators clearly posted—and periodic external review. Privacy policies should be easier to understand, and potential conflicts of interest, such as ties to the pharmaceutical industry, openly noted.

And for now, Children's offers this handy guide for the growing number of patients who join with others online:

Safety Tips for Patients Using Online Social Networks
1. Look for sites where the basic description of the disease and how to care for it is consistent with information provided by your doctor. Be very cautious of sites that advertise miracle "cures."

2. Find the privacy policy of any website where you register as a member, and make sure that you understand it.

3. Try to use sites where you have maximal control over the sharing of your health data — where you can designate whether the information you disclose will be available to anyone online, members only or members who are "friends."

4. Look for websites that clearly label advertisements and disclose conflicts of interest.

5. Try to use sites that have moderators and at least periodically undergo external review.

6. Always remember that going online is not a replacement for visiting your doctor.

This program aired on February 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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