Online health communities improve chronic care quality

Online health communities can be powerful tools for addressing chronic care issues as the number of people afflicted with such ailments rises, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

For the study, researchers define online health communities (OHCs) as Internet-based platforms that unite a group of patients, a group of professionals, or both, using blogs, chats, forums and wikis. In this case, the researchers--from Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands--illustrated using OHCs for ParkinsonNet, a professional network made for participants with Parkinson's disease in which providers deliver patient-centered care.

ParkinsonNet utilized community managers; in this case, it was a marketing and communications expert. The community manager distributed posters, information pamphlets, and "business cards" to patients and health professionals as part of educating people about the OHC.

"OHCs enhance patient-centered care by improved access to personalized information, emotional support, and patient participation," study authors wrote.

For potential applications in clinical practice, the researchers found that since some health professionals lack sufficient expertise to address needs of chronic patients, OHCs could be used to share experiences and knowledge. Additionally, the researchers said that OHCs can "bridge geographical distances" and "enable interdisciplinary collaboration across institutions and traditional echelons."

The researchers also pointed out that sometimes patients don't have the tools to self-manage their diseases; using OHCs, they said, engages patients.

A study published earlier this year determined that social networks devoted to specific health conditions offer the potential to improve participants' treatment and adherence to their health regimen. For the study, researchers from the Veterans Health Administration and University of California-San Francisco studied how epilepsy patients used PatientsLikeMe, a network of patients with chronic illnesses. The found that patients who connected with others patients were better able to stay on track with their health regimen.

And according to a report published earlier this month by Boston Children's Hospital and the Verizon Foundation, care coordination for pediatric health improved through the use of technology--specifically, through cloud-based platforms and web portals for education.

To learn more:
- see the study in JMIR