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Dr. Facebook gives contraceptive advice

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Social media are particularly popular among young women; thus, a new study investigated whether providing young women with contraceptive advice via social media, specifically Facebook, would be effective for increasing their contraceptive knowledge and use. The study was published in the April edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology by researchers at New York–Presbyterian Hospital–Weill Cornell Medical Center and Columbia University.

The study authors note that a major healthcare concern is informing women of safe and effective forms of contraception, Women under the age of 25 years are at high risk of unintended pregnancy and are much in need of effective contraception with which they will be compliant. At present, however, counseling young women on the risks and benefits of the abundant contraceptives available can be challenging. The difficulties stem from inadequate time for counseling during an office visit, low baseline patient knowledge of contraceptive options, and ineffective communication between physicians and patients. Young women often state that they understand their options; however, when asked subsequently to explain the risks and benefits of different types of contraceptives to a healthcare practitioner, they are unable to do so. Thus, the ability to effectively transfer techniques have been reported to increase compliance.

The authors stress that patients need a counseling method that is familiar and accessible when seeking medical information. Recent advances in Internet connectivity and social technology have fueled the social media era of communication. Social media includes Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube; these sites, with large user bases, allow user-created content to be distributed free of charge over the Internet and have been effectively used for patient–physician interactions. Therefore, the goal of the new study was to determine whether use of social media in addition to standard counseling would be more effective in improving patient knowledge, satisfaction, and contraceptive preference than traditional standard office counseling plus pamphlet reading. The investigators note that the use of Facebook in their study was to determine the feasibility of providing vital health information in a more modern form; in addition, they attempted to measure the effect that this presentation would have on contraceptive knowledge among women.

The study group comprised English-speaking women aged 18–45 years who were receiving care at an urban academic center obstetrics and gynecology clinic. The women were randomly assigned to receive standard contraceptive education and pamphlet (74 women) or standard contraceptive education plus Facebook (69 women). The women’s contraceptive knowledge was evaluated both before and after the intervention by the Contraceptive Knowledge Inventory. The researchers assessed the effect of the intervention by raw score and percent increase in Contraceptive Knowledge Inventory score, participant satisfaction with counseling method, and contraceptive preference following the intervention. The results were subdivided by age group.

The researchers found that the average raw Contraceptive Knowledge Inventory score after intervention was significantly higher in the Facebook compared to the standard contraceptive education plus pamphlet group (15 vs. 12). In addition, a significant difference was found in the percentage increase in the Contraceptive Knowledge Inventory score (36% vs.12%). The women’s satisfaction with the counseling method was significantly higher in the Facebook group (average 10 vs. 6). In addition, the women’s contraceptive preference for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs; IUDs or implant) following intervention was significantly higher in the Facebook compared with the standard contraceptive education plus pamphlet group (57% vs. 35%). Among women currently using none or barrier contraception (e.g., condom or diaphragm), contraceptive preference for implants was significantly higher in the Facebook group (26% vs. 5%); however, when the analysis was extended to include implant or IUD, LARCs were not significantly higher in the Facebook group (48% vs. 33%).

The authors concluded that social media as a supplement to traditional in-office counseling improves women’s contraceptive knowledge and increases their preference for LARCs.