The role of social networks and social support

Reducing the impact of health literacy

People with low health literacy may have less social support regarding health issues whereas this may reduce the negative consequences of low health literacy. Social networks can give support, which results in the patient’s increased motivation to adhere to the instructions obtained from professionals. It is helpful to involve people close to the patient when important messages are communicated to the patient.

How to involve social networks?

  • Communities play an important role in health literacy. Neighbours, relatives and others close to persons with low health literacy can contribute to creaing resilience. In several European countries neighbourhood social centres offer a place for exchange and support, where people can get advice on health and medical issues as well from volunteers or peers.
  • Peer groups and volunteers with the same disease background may prove to be useful in some situations. These can give the patients a platform the experience exchange and support. The activities should fit to the daily schedule of the patient and his or her social network.
  • It is useful to enhance co-operation among citizens in community-based groups across generations. Younger people may help older people with internet or technology, while older people may bring their life experience and time for activities.
  • Home visitors and volunteers have proven to be effective in supporting people who live alone and are not mobile.

Improvement of self-management

Community networks offer opportunities for sustainable improvement of self-management. People with low health literacy can share their concerns more easily with persons in similar situations. People who have overcome recognisable challenges can be role models for older people with low health literacy. Thus, the negative consequences of low health literacy can be mitigated by social support and by the actions of the health system.

References

Entwistle VA, France EF, Wykeb S, Jepson R, Hunt K, Ziebland S, Thompson A. How information about other people’s personal experiences can help with healthcare decision-making: A qualitative study. Patient Education and Counseling, 2011; 85: e291-e298.

Kaminsky TA, Mitchell PH, Thompson EA, Dudgeon BJ, Powell JM. Supports and barriers as experienced by individuals with vision loss from diabetes. Disability and Rehabilitation, 2014; 36: 487-496.

Ziebland S, Herxheimer A. How patients’ experiences contribute to decision making: illustrations from DIPEx (personal experiences of health and illness). Journal of Nursing Management, 2008;16:433-9.