Last year I gave a talk at the 2013 Pelvic Health Conference in Denver, Colorado, and my focus was on the need for healthcare marketers to build communities of shared interest. These are niche online communities that give patients the opportunity to engage with others who are going through, or have gone through, similar circumstances.
When you get a diagnosis or are facing a significant health issue, it is natural to want to seek out others who have faced the same set of challenges. The experience, support and guidance of members of disease–specific online patient support community can be invaluable. Someone diagnosed with a rare disease or chronic condition can potentially find community among the group members.
If the healthcare organization is part of the community, it has the opportunity to inject high quality information and medical expertise, and make available important resources for those visiting the community. Ideally, in this scenario, the provider is the host and the facilitator, making the interactions possible – helping to create community.
Many online communities have developed independent of healthcare providers
For the most part, the reality is that online communities of shared interest have developed independent of healthcare providers. And there are communities for almost any condition you can imagine.
One that has recently been in the news is HeartValveSurgery.com. Adam Pick, a patient advocate and former heart valve patient, started the website and online community to empower patients and caregivers from diagnosis to recovery. (Adam is also the author of The Patient’s Guide To Heart Valve Surgery.) The site includes a wide array of resources for heart valve patients: a cardiac surgeon finder, a heart valve clinic finder tool with profiles of the major clinics, a blog, a patient community/social network, patient and physician videos, and more.
With its Heart Valve Clinic Directory and Heart Valve Clinic Microsite application, HeartValveSurgery.com now offers patients an end-to-end platform for learning about heart valve surgery.
Sharing and interacting drives participation
In the online community portion of the site, patients and family members can write journal entries, upload pictures and share their stories. Equally important, they can learn about the stories of others and interact with friends, family, patients and caregivers. If you decide to follow a specific patient’s journal, you can elect to have updates sent to you via email, letting you know when new journal entries have been posted.
I discovered HeartValveSurgery.com when one of my clients, the East Carolina Heart Institute at Vidant Medical Center, announced the formation of a new Heart Valve Clinic Microsite that would be hosted on HeartValveSurgery.com. The Heart Valve Clinic Microsite provides patients a simple interface with multimedia capabilities to educate them about valvular therapy and the East Carolina Heart Institute.
To date it looks like nine heart valve clinics have developed microsites on HeartValveSurgery.com, recognizing the opportunity to share information with patients and family members visiting the online community. This is truly a “community of shared interest.” And this type of community is only going to become more prevalent over time. It is time for healthcare marketers to embrace their new role as community builders and facilitators.