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      How Online Health Communities Make Healthcare Better

      Jun 23, 2014

      5 minute read

      Of the 85% of adults in the US who use the internet, 72% (or about 61% of all US adults) reported using it to find information about their health, whether seeking a possible diagnosis for themselves or others, a recommendation for a clinician, or other information.

      In the online health community world, players like PatientLikeMe have been around since 2004. Currently it has 250,000+ members, content for 2,000+ conditions, 40+ published research studies! HealthCentral, a large-scale health content site offering virtual communities, draws 17 million users to its network of health-related sites per month. Both are extremely popular with the patients and are the preferred sources for health related advice, support and information.

      Online Community

      To reach out to your patients better, provide better and holistic care, promote collaboration, and disperse health information on a highly specialized portal- you “need” to have to an online health community. In fact, 36% of adults living with chronic disease say they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the internet.

      But, where do you start? The first step is to decide the type of community you want. There are five main types of Online Health Communities that you can have for your organization.

      1. Health Information
      2. Disease Specific
      3. Physician portals
      4. Support Portals
      5. Wellness Portals

      More on this in just a bit. Before we talk about the kind of communities, let’s talk about the benefits.

      Benefits of Online Health Communities

      Benefits of Online Health Community

      In short, Online Health Communities can help you reach out to your patients faster that will boost engagement, which over time will translate into business growth.

      So, now you must be wondering, what kind of communities can you really build? I have collected a list of examples under the five categories that I mentioned earlier. All of these communities stick to their niche and are very clear on the rules and the kind of content that can be posted, promoted and accessed and that is the sole reason, why they are successful. So, read on. (This is by no means an extensive list; please feel free to add your own examples in comments)

      Type of Online Health Communities

      Health Information

      • MayoClinic: The best online communities are often simple, providing a way to engage people around themes, topics and content that is relevant to them and you. For somebody like Mayo Clinic, this engagement is around their knowledge and expertise as healthcare providers. Through their blogs, videos and podcasts they do just that.
      • WebMD: A health information juggernaut, WebMD offers health news for the public, creating and maintaining up-to-date medical reference content databases, medical imagery, graphics, and animation, communities, live web events, user experience, and interactive tools.

      Disease Specific

      • AIDSportal: AIDSPortal is a knowledge-sharing online community sponsored primarily by the UK’s Department for International Development and aimed at people who are working as part of the response to the global AIDS epidemic. The site provides professional and peer-to-peer networking and an online community where they can share experiences, knowledge and support each other with answers to questions and problems.
      • Novartis CFVoice: CFVoice is an online community for people with Cystic Fibrosis, built and managed by Novartis, a pharmaceutical company. Launched in March 2008, the site has a clear focus on children, teens and young adults and on their families and caregivers. This online community engages different people in different ways – using interactive games as a way of younger audiences sharing their information, videos and personal stories for teens and the younger adults and discussion boards and forums for parents and caregivers.

      Physicians and Nurses Portal

      • AT&T Physician Portal: Designed to make physicians work easier by leveraging technology, he AT&T Healthcare Community Online Physician Portal includes: Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, e-prescribing, patient registries, lab ordering and results, revenue cycle management, clinical/support tools, and bundled solutions.
      • Netforum: Portal by Philips for healthcare professionals. It is aimed to allow physicians and others to share best practices, case studies, procedures, published articles, white papers, and announcement about seminars, webinars, and other form of content that helps physicians deliver the best care they can. The quality of content that gets posted in this community is of the highest quality which makes it a valuable resource.

      For Patients (Reviews, Advice, Support)

      • MDJunction: As MDJunction says on its website “MDJunction is a meeting place for people who deal with health challenges, a comfort zone to help and get help by people who are in your spot. Founded in 2006 MDJunction is now home to more than 800 online support groups visited by more than 16,000,000 people in the past year.” It is a general site that offers support groups that can cover physical and emotional health issues.
      • HealingWell: It is a support community that offers support with chronic diseases. It contains content in form of support community, blog, videos, newsletter, articles and other resources. Apart from being a thriving community, it also drives sales.
      • AskAPatient: This website provides reviews and ratings for medicines. It can be called as comparative drug and healthcare information portal. They have information on drugs approved by FDA, biological drugs such as vaccines, blood and blood components, allergenics, somatic cells, and gene therapy products. In short if you got a prescription and want to know all about it. Go there.
      • PatientsLikeMe: One of the most popular data sharing portal that allows members to access loads of health related data that can transform the way patients manage their own conditions, change the way industry conducts research and improve patient care. Their focus is on sharing and facilitating learning from real-world, outcome-based health data.
      • CureTogether: A review and health information sharing portal that gets patients together and lets them share quantitative information on over 500 medical conditions. The members can talk about sensitive symptoms and compare which treatments work best for them. It also allows members to track their health. Healthcare professionals, caregivers, patients can access new research discoveries are made based on the patient-contributed data; that ultimately results in improved treatments.

      Wellness Portals

      • Wellness Online: Started and maintained by health coaches, it is a popular portal that hosts content on taking care of yourself. The other type of communities are focused on the disease specific and improving things, once the disease has happened; this portal focuses on living well by paying attention to the disease prevention, emotional health, min-body healing, weight management and more.
      • FortHealthcare: A wellness community run by FortHealthcare, a healthcare provider in Wisconsin, that includes how to create healthy (non-virtual) communities, tips on family health, nutrition tips, stress management, health recipes, and updates on events on health related events. Instead of having forums for discussions, ask a question, it is designed to bring people together and disperse health related information.
      • Viocare: By implementing Gamification, Viocare ensures high participation. Its rewards program allows members to earn Wellness Points for both online and community activities. Members can redeem their Wellness Points for merchandise and services from community merchants. The members can redeem their points because it can build partnerships between local governments, health departments, community health care organizations, retailers, businesses, and residents.


      One thing is clear; possibilities with an online health community are endless. Whether it is broadcasting important health information, establishing contacts, sending notifications about health status, provide access to patient records, or delivering highly targeted information to chronic patients, health communities will expedite the process.

      Got any more examples? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

      About Grazitti Community Services

      At Grazitti Interactive, we help companies set up robust communities from scratch. From strategy to platform selection, build and setup, community promotion, and community management, we help brands like British Biologicals, BPL Health Systems, SonoSite meet their community objectives with measurable results. To know more or schedule a meeting for your community needs, just drop a mail at [email protected]


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