Physicians and health care professionals help us navigate through diagnoses, medical tests, medications and overall plans of care. But sometimes the missing piece of the treatment plan is the ability to talk with others who have similar medical conditions.
Previous access to support groups might have been limited by location, time, medical conditions and incompatible personality types.
Now, however, social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram, connect people from around the globe. People can readily link with others to share stories and experiences related to their medical conditions.
One example is the Diabetes Online Community or #DOC on Twitter. You can follow people with Type 1, Type 2 and Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA) who share the ups and downs of daily diabetes management.
Similarly, on Pinterest you can find others following a gluten-free meal plan for celiac disease who "pin" recipe ideas and places to find gluten-free products.
You can participate in or read conversation threads on Facebook group pages that match your medical issues, like congestive heart failure or skin cancer. With YouTube you can create your own relevant health channel and on Instagram follow inspirational photos by organizations like the American Heart Association.
Many health-based websites also have social media components that facilitate conversations among members. Wegohealth.com, for instance, has "sharing hubs." Myglu.org matches users with Type 1 diabetes to age-appropriate communities. Curetogether.com connects people with similar symptoms or medical conditions, and migraine.com provides support for those suffering from migraines.
Privacy and the nuisance of unwanted spam are always a concern whenever maneuvering online in any forum. However, the "always-on" availability of social media is a big benefit. It is there when you need it. Also, if one online outlet or group isn't meeting your needs, you can find another for a better experience. You have the power to create your own online "community."
The information you gather as you participate can lead to other portals of supportive resources, websites and groups. Ultimately, the idea is to link with others facing similar struggles, expand your knowledge and find comfort knowing you are not alone.
Pam Noonan, MS, RN, CDE, is a diabetes educator with Sutter Medical Foundation.