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Using social media to improve foot care

Kevin Woo Footcare
Dr. Kevin Woo’s team, which includes Idevania Costa, left, a PhD candidate, and Lucy Mgonja, an MSc candidate, right, are using social media with the hope of improving foot care among diabetics. (Supplied photo)

It was seeing the Canadian Association of Wound Care’s support groups for patients with diabetes that inspired the idea for Kevin Woo’s Online Foot Care research project.

“The program was for patients based in Ontario. The geography of diabetes is such that many patients live in isolated parts of Canada, and I saw a potential to build a support program that would be accessible to all through a social media platform,” says Dr. Woo, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing.

With diabetes on the rise, Dr. Woo is interested in one of the disease’s major complications: foot issues. Nerve damage resulting from diabetes leaves patients with no sensation in their feet, making them increasingly susceptible to injury, ulcers and even amputation.

“Education about foot care is extremely important for these patients; it can prevent further complication,” explains Dr. Woo.

What he has found so far, however, is that traditional education efforts have been ineffective, resulting in minimal changes to patient behaviour. The solution that he envisions is to capitalize on social media.

A recipient of the Early Research Award from the Ministry of Research and Innovation, Dr. Woo and his research team will develop an online platform, which will function as a virtual support group. The program will engage patients who have had success with self-management to be peer counsellors who can offer education and support to other patients in a safe, supervised online setting.

With an aim to build a sense of empowerment and decrease depression, Dr. Woo’s research team will monitor the use of the online community, and measure the impact of the program through changes to patient behaviour.

“The delivery of health care through an online platform is a completely new concept,” says Dr. Woo. “Our goal is to have patients develop their own short-term and long-term goals, to learn tangible skills for self-management, and to be motivated to follow through.”