A team of researchers at Newcastle University are to harness the power of social media to get across important messages about how arthritis can affect children and teenagers.
With funding of £33,000 from medical research charity Arthritis Research UK, medics led by orthopaedic surgeon Craig Gerrand will work with patients, health professionals and local filmmakers to develop and pilot two videos.
They will encourage youngsters recently diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and their families to watch them and to share the videos with others which will be available online.
The aim is to raise awareness of the condition which affects children and young people under the age of 17and of the need to early diagnosis and treatment. Children with JIA are often diagnosed late, partly because of lack of awareness among their parents, teachers, and many health professionals that arthritis can affect children.
''The aim of this research is to test whether the explosion in the use of online social networks, such as Facebook, can be used to spread information and raise awareness about health,'' explains Gerrand, who also works at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
''In particular we want to explore whether patients and families will share videos recommended by doctors and nurses in the clinic, and how many viewers these videos will reach. Online videos and the growth of social networks present a new opportunity to spread health messages, but it's important to explore how to do this.''
Up to 75 young people recently diagnosed with arthritis and their families in two busy paediatric centres in Newcastle and Liverpool will be asked to take part in the research project by a member of their clinical team.
''If this pilot is successful, then we aim to develop this work as part of a clinical trial to establish the effectiveness of this approach in improved awareness of JIA, the importance of specialist care and ultimately, to improve access to care, for this and other conditions,'' added Gerrand.