That Special Someone: Social Media Support Helps Patient Reach Health Goals

I run six days a week. Well, usually. Sometimes five. Sometimes four. Sometimes (admit it!)…three. I really want to be a six-a-weeker. But I only reach that goal when I have someone to run with me.

It’s that “someone” that makes all the difference. It may be that, in my early thirties, I am not yet a full-fledged adult. It may be that it’s harder for me to get up and run in the wintertime darkness. It may be that I’m just lazy. Whatever the reason, I am much more likely to fit in six days if I’ve committed to meeting a running partner. Then, when my alarm goes off at 5:45 am and my comforter is warm and I hear the rain outside, I get up anyway.

And I feel fantastic by the time I get home, even if the stars are still blinking in an inky sky.

flickr: mikebaird

All this goes to say that researchers have known for a long time that support makes an enormous impact on sticking with an exercise routine. For example, spouses who exercise together are more likely to meet fitness goals.

The idea of putting people with exercise partners to improve commitment was expanded to the internet a while ago. Websites like,, and allow perfect strangers with similar exercise interests to meet up and form a partnership. Other websites supply would-be athletes with walking and running programs, weight-lifting routines, and tons of nutrition and healthy living advice. Any way you look at it, there are online venues for everyone from beginners to die-hards.

So, how can hospitals become part of this chain of support for their patients, 70 percent of whom fail to exercise regularly? The answer, not surprisingly, is social media. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School have found that “adding community features to online health programs can be a powerful tool for reducing attrition.” 79 percent of participants who were given access to online forums stuck with a 16-week program, compared to 66 percent without access to social components. In other words, the support of others made all the difference.

And, for hospitals concerned with managing outreach budgets, the cost of social media can be much lower than multiple one-on-one meetings with patients. A staff member can respond to many more people through a forum, blog, Facebook, or Twitter than if he or she had to set up individual appointments in an office. Not to mention all the free support given by other members of the same community.

This use of hospital social media can apply to a lot more than just exercise and wellness programs. Patients receiving joint replacement, back surgery or dealing with diabetes, cancer, or any number of other diseases, could all potentially recover better and have a higher morale throughout the process if they were part of a community that offered a listening ear, pertinent information, and even motivating competition. For those of us flawed humans who haven’t yet perfected our ability to self-motivate, the chance to meet important health goals with a friend is an opportunity hard to pass up.

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  1. […] isn’t this a golden opportunity? I wrote last week about how social networking sites can help people exercise more consistently. Well, I’m also […]

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