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Nat Commun. 2018 Sep 26;9(1):3930. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-06408-6.

A scalable online tool for quantitative social network assessment reveals potentially modifiable social environmental risks.

Author information

Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, 02115, MA, USA.
Network Science Institute, Northeastern University, Boston, 02115, MA, USA.
Broad Institute, Program in Medical and Population Genetics, Cambridge, 02142, MA, USA.
Multiple Sclerosis Center and the Center for Translational & Computational Neuroimmunology, Department of Neurology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, 10032, NY, USA.
Department of Neurology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, 15260, PA, USA.


Social networks are conduits of support, information, and health behavior flows. Existing measures of social networks used in clinical research are typically summative scales of social support or artificially truncated networks of ≤ 5 people. Here, we introduce a quantitative social network assessment tool on a secure open-source web platform, readily deployable in large-scale clinical studies. The tool maps an individual's personal network, including specific persons, their relationships to each other, and their health habits. To demonstrate utility, we used the tool to measure the social networks of 1493 persons at risk of multiple sclerosis. We examined each person's social network in relation to self-reported neurological disability. We found that the characteristics of persons surrounding the participant, such as negative health behaviors, were strongly associated with the individual's functional disability. This quantitative assessment reveals the key elements of individuals' social environments that could be targeted in clinical trials.

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