In recent decades, the literature on Social Network Analysis and health has experienced a significant increase. Disease transmission, health behavior, organizational networks, social capital, and social support are among the different health areas where Social Network Analysis has been applied. The current epidemiological trend is characterized by a progressive increase in the population’s ageing and the incidence of long-term conditions. Thus, it seems relevant to highlight the importance of social support and care systems to guarantee the coverage of health and social needs within the context of acute illness, chronic disease, and disability for patients and their carers. Thus, the main aim is to identify, categorize, summarize, synthesize, and map existing knowledge, literature, and evidence about the use of Social Network Analysis to study social support and care in the context of illness and disability.
This scoping review will be conducted following Arksey and O'Malley's framework with adaptations from Levac et al. and Joanna Briggs Institute’s methodological guidance for conducting scoping reviews. We will search the following databases (from January 2000 onwards): PubMed, MEDLINE, Web of Science Core Collection, SCOPUS, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, PROSPERO, and DARE. Complementary searches will be conducted in selected relevant journals. Only articles related to social support or care in patients or caregivers in the context of acute illnesses, disabilities or long-term conditions will be considered eligible for inclusion. Two reviewers will screen all the citations, full-text articles, and abstract the data independently. A narrative synthesis will be provided with information presented in the main text and tables.
The knowledge about the scientific evidence available in the literature, the methodological characteristics of the studies identified based on Social Network Analysis, and its main contributions will highlight the importance of health-related research's social and relational dimensions. These results will shed light on the importance of the structure and composition of social networks to provide social support and care and their impact on other health outcomes. It is anticipated that results may guide future research on network-based interventions that might be considered drivers to provide further knowledge in social support and care from a relational approach at the individual and community levels.
Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a research approach within the social and behavioral sciences which focuses on ways of interaction and interconnection between individuals and social groups to explain social patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors [1, 2]. In recent decades, research based on SNA has been increasingly used in health, including areas such as disease transmission, health behavior, organizational networks, social capital, and social support [3,4,5].
The literature on social networks and health begins by referring to the idea that people are embedded in a network of relationships. The first empirical studies were published in the Annual Review of Public Health in the mid-1990s . They showed the usefulness of specific SNA techniques to evaluate prevention programs among the involved organizations , or the relationship between HIV status, drug use and sexual relations . Since then, there has been an exponential increase in scientific publications based on this methodology, especially in the last decade.
The results of this scoping review will be added to the existing review articles on the use of the SNA in the health research area as complex health care interventions , the behavior change , nursing , inter-organizational networks , or healthcare providers . Specifically, this protocol describes a systematic method synthesizing the existing literature on the use of SNA to study social support and care within the context of illness and disability.
This type of review is a convenient tool to determine the coverage of the body of literature on this specific area and will give a precise indication of the number of studies available and an overview of its focus. It might be useful for uncovering emerging evidence when it is still unclear what other more explicit questions can be addressed by a more precise systematic review . Thus, the broader scope and nature justify the election of a scoping review versus a traditional systematic review that would answer specific questions and require more expansive inclusion criteria .