Role of digital media in self-management of chronic diseases

14 Jul 2023

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding a new research unit at the Department of Media and Communication.

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Chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) belong to the most common and expensive health problems in industrialized countries. In bringing chronic diseases under control and improving the quality of life of patients, self-management plays an important role. Digital media are predestined to facilitate this self-management, and initial studies on their use have shown promising results.

“Due to theoretical and methodological weaknesses, however, these research findings usually lack external validity – that is to say, transferability to real life,” says Professor Constanze Rossmann, Chair of Media and Communication at LMU and head of the new DFG research unit DISELMA (Digital Media in Chronic Disease Self-Management). Among other reasons, this is because randomized controlled trials, as they are typically used in medical research, frequently observe just one specific app or a limited time period.

“But from our studies on diseases such as diabetes, we know for instance that patients make use of the entire mobile ecosystem, and that they may not utilize any particular resource for an extended period of time,” says Rossmann. Therefore, the scientists want to seek out new approaches within the research unit and take a comprehensive look at the role of digital media. To this end, they will study the interplay of the usage and effects of digital media at the individual level over a longer timeframe.

Going beyond the individual level

“However, we also need to go beyond the individual level and incorporate contexts at the interpersonal, organizational, and societal levels,” emphasizes Rossmann. This includes elements such as doctor-patient interactions and discourses in personal networks, organizations, and media, but also possible negative consequences like data privacy issues, social isolation, and detrimental impacts on the doctor-patient relationship.

The scientists will investigate all these aspects in a total of six individual projects, analyzing what contribution digital media can make to self-management. In addition to LMU researchers, the new research unit includes scientists from Freie Universität Berlin, Chemnitz University of Technology, Bielefeld University, and the University of Münster.

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