Hospice Social Work Preferences for the Delivery of Facebook Support Groups

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The physical, emotional, and mental health toll on family caregivers – non-paid relatives or friends who takes the responsibility to care for a hospice patient – is well documented. Emotional and social support and information on how to care for their patients are often requested by caregivers.

Oliver and colleagues recently conducted a clinical trial of a private hidden Facebook educational and support group, which demonstrated that family caregiver depression can be lessened with participation in this type of support group.  Additionally, the clinical trial demonstrated that the Facebook group was feasible, caregivers were satisfied, and they identified positive benefits.

Despite the benefits shown by Facebook groups in the clinical trial, hospice staff have identified many barriers to their facilitation of such groups.

To advance implementation of Facebook education and support groups for family caregivers, Oliver (2023) conducted a study to understand social work preference for delivery of Facebook support groups.  The specific study questions included:

  • Would hospice social workers prefer to facilitate online support groups themselves or refer to a trusting external resource?
  • What are the perceived challenges for social workers facilitating online support groups?
  • What would be the perceived challenges to referring family caregivers to others who provide online support groups?”

The study participants included 173 hospice social workers that completed a Discrete Choice Experiment –  a survey designed to solicit preferences using hypothetical scenarios and asking participants to choose one over another.  The survey also included questions about the participants perceptions of the value of Facebook support groups as well as perceived challenges in both referring to and facilitating a Facebook support group.

The results of the study demonstrated that 96% of hospice social workers participating in the study felt that Facebook support groups would be at least somewhat beneficial for caregivers.  There was no difference in preference to referring to versus  facilitating a Facebook support group.

Perceived Challenges with Referring to a Facebook Support Group

  • Referral organization issues such as finding an organization to refer to
  • Technology issues such as privacy and access to technology
  • Caregiver issues such as digital literacy and “buy-in” to participate

Perceived Challenges with Facilitating a Facebook Support Group

  • Organization issues such as cost and staff time/availability
  • Technology issues such as privacy, security and availability of Internet and devices by caregivers
  • Practitioner issues such as boundary issues, training and ability to provide adequate monitoring of group comments (particularly after hours)
  • Caregiver issues such as digital literacy

The results of the study suggest that education for social workers on privacy and security of Facebook groups and how to facilitate such groups is required for successful implementation by a local hospice agency.  Referral to an outside agency should be supported by establishing strong relationship with group leaders.  Additionally, organizations offering this service should have resources available to address digital literacy.

Source: Oliver, D. P., Eshun-Wilsonova, I., Benson, J., Pitzer, K., & Washington, K. T. (2023). Hospice Social Work Preferences for the Delivery of Facebook Support Groups: A Discrete Choice ExperimentAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine®, 10499091231152442.