Health issues are, almost by definition, a private matter. However, most people with a serious health issue are anxious to find out as much as they can about the treatment options, side effects, and the issue itself. Although websites such as WebMD appeared early on the web, the appetite for health-related information has only increased. This has led to more and more people reaching out to others on the Internet with similar health issues, and even posting much of their personal experiences on public sites.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Ning exist to connect people with similar experiences and interests, so it was a natural fit that groups would quickly be created and joined by people with specific health issues. Just doing a quick web search for "Facebook" or "Ning" and terms like "spinal" or "paralyzed" turns up dozens of groups, with thousands of members. (See attached screenshots, Health Social Sites.)
Here are some reasons for connecting with other people with similar health issues, even if they are remote and you never meet them face-to-face:
- help set expectations for things they may have already experienced
- advice on practical matters (this style of fork is easiest when held like this)
- find advice on local issues (if you come to this town, be aware that the City Hall's south sidewalk is not currently paved)
- share tips (best prices, discounts, etc.)
- find best practices (set alarms on your cell phone to remember to take your medications)
- learn about events, field trips, group outings; as well as find others interested in setting up such activities
Many common features of social networking sites are the ability to share photos & videos, post items on the discussion board (like a bulletin board), create a shared calendar, publish blogs, and some even have games to add a little in-group competition.
Of course, it's not expected that everyone with similar health issues will have similar other interests. But that's the beauty of these social networking sites; you can easily join multiple groups to cover all of your interests!
Each generation spends more time on-line, and becomes more transparent to others, so groups like these are just the beginning. Ensuring everyone, especially those with a new or newly diagnosed health issue, gets connected to others as quickly as possible should help spread information, prevent isolation, and assist with training. And, most people find spending time on social networking sites fun!