A study published in journal PLOSone this week has examined how the social networks of people with long-term conditions (diabetes and heart disease) are associated with self-management and improvements in health. The study pays specific attention to the ways in which patient health and self-management are related to levels of social participation, characteristics of the members of the networks, and to the support received from these members,
Patients with chronic heart disease or diabetes were randomly selected from the disease registers of 19 GP practices in the North West of England. Data on their personal social networks was then collected using a postal questionnaire, alongside face-to-face interviewing. This was followed up at 12 months via a postal questionnaire. 300 patients responded to the study. The study measured the patient’s ability to self manage, the extent to which patients engaged in healthy behaviours, and their physical health and emotional well-being. It also included economic considerations.
Findings indicated that: (1) social involvement with a wider variety of people and groups supports personal self-management and physical and mental well-being; (2) support work undertaken by personal networks expands in accordance with health needs helping people to cope with their condition; (3) network support substitutes for formal care and can produce substantial saving in traditional health service utilisation costs. Health service costs were reduced for patients receiving greater levels of illness work through their networks.
Being connected to voluntary and community groups was related to key dimensions of self-management, as well as to better physical health and emotional well-being. Significantly, social involvement was also associated with the maintenance of healthy behaviours over time, with these behaviours declining in patients who had no links to community groups or organisations.
The article suggests it may be useful to focus on the importance of social involvement with community groups and resources to develop approaches for supporting long term illness management.
Longitudinal studies of smoking, obesity, happiness, alcohol and drug use, have shown how social networks influence the genesis and spread of health related phenomena. There are also known relationships between personal attributes associated with social networking such as altruism and volunteering, and health and well-being outcomes, particularly in older adults. Social networks and the associated availability of social capital are also relevant for understanding flows of trust, reciprocity and social participation that underpin collective action and mutual support. Low stocks of social capital, both at the community and individual levels, have been consistently shown to be strongly associated with poorer health outcomes.
The full article can we read here.
The Contribution of Social Networks to the Health and Self-Management of Patients with Long-Term Conditions: A Longitudinal Study
David Reeves, Christian Blickem, Ivaylo Vassilev, Helen Brooks,Anne Kennedy, Gerry Richardson, Anne Rogers
Published: June 02, 2014