A randomized controlled trial evaluating the effects of social networking on chronic disease management in rheumatoid arthritis

Maria A. Lopez-Olivo, Jessica T. Foreman, Cheuk Leung, Heather Y. Lin, Tiffany Westrich-Robertson, Catherine Hofstetter, Jude K.A. des Bordes, Anne Lyddiatt, Amye Leong, Irmgard U. Willcockson, Susan K. Peterson, Maria E. Suarez-Almazor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Social networking has been shown to improve health outcomes in certain patient populations. While patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) increasingly use social networking to communicate with peers, the effects of these interactions are largely unknown. Methods: In a randomized controlled trial, we compared RA patients who participated in a social networking group moderated by peer leaders and who had access to a static website offering RA materials with a control group, who only had access to the website. The primary outcomes were patients’ RA knowledge, self-efficacy and empowerment. Secondary outcomes included participation in desired health behaviors, and satisfaction with peer support, among others. Follow-up assessments were conducted at 3 and 6 months. Participants who never signed in were excluded from the primary analysis. Results: 105 participants were randomized to each group. Mean age was 52 (±12.4) and 92.4% were females. Knowledge scores improved in both groups, but only in the control group the differences observed at 3 and 6 months were significant (p≤0.02). Self-efficacy scores also improved in both groups, but only the differences observed at 6 months in the Facebook group were significant (p=0.02). When comparing groups, at 3 months the knowledge improvements observed in the control group were greater compared with those observed in the Facebook group (mean difference 0.4 versus 0.1; respectively, p=0.03). No other differences were observed in secondary outcomes between the 2 groups, except in peer support satisfaction. The Facebook® group reported greater peer support satisfaction in 3 out 5 subscales compared with the control group (p≤0.04). Conclusion: Peer support satisfaction was higher in participants using an online social network, but this was not translated into greater disease knowledge or empowerment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number152072
JournalSeminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Online peer support
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Self-management
  • Social networking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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