Friday, 8 October 2010

Can Social Media Actually Deliver Health Services?


An interesting article over at BBC News tells how researchers are looking into the possibility of using Social Networks to help tackle insomnia. Specifically, it suggests that the short, session based way in which users interact with Social Media is similar to the approach used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and could therefore be used in a similar way.

The research will focus on the games played on facebook and other networks, such as farmville and mafiawars. These are massively popular and researchers believe that examining the techniques that make them so could help them develop similar applications incorporating elements of CBT.

Initially, this will be aimed at treating insomnia, as CBT has been shown to be particularly effective against this disorder. If successful, it could extend to other psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety.

In effect, this means that Social Media may not only be able to spread a message, but also actually deliver treatment. After the initial development of the application, the cost would be virtually nil and the number of patients treated could be limitless. With budgets becoming ever tighter and patients often having difficulty accessing therapy, these two points alone make research into this area worth strong investment.

But they aren't the only benefits. The communicative nature of Social Networks means that those going through the treatment will easily be able to seek support and advice from fellow sufferers. This, along with the almost addictive nature of such games, would make it far more likely that people would stick at it. With Social Media being such a viral medium, the games could also reach those who haven't yet considered therapy, but could still benefit.

If these games were a success, could they be of use in other areas? The various Social Marketing agendas the the NHS currently pursue, such as promoting healthy living or stopping smoking, all involve behavioural change. It's therefore not too great a jump to consider using this technology to support that. All the benefits above would still apply, a competitive element may also help and it would increase the 'fun' element, that is so important in Social Media, yet often sorely lacking in Social Marketing campaigns on those platforms.

All in all, it's quite obviously worth an investment from the NHS in working with Communications and Marketing Companies to examine the potential of games within Social Media.

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