Before you launch an online patient community, get out of your healthcare box

There are plenty of online patient communities in healthcare, but most of them are sponsored by national associations or supported in part by sharing data with pharmaceuticals.

For a number of reasons, health systems have been slow to develop these branded online platforms. But in the product and service worlds online communities are thriving all around us.

Danya Cheskis-Gold is the Director of Community at Spark Capital, a venture capital firm whose community includes startup founders and employees from companies like Tumblr and Twitter. She was recently profiled in a blogpost for CMX and shared six valuable lessons that directly apply to launching online communities.

I’ve adapted some of her ideas for healthcare.

Get out of the building 

Before you begin a community, get outside your healthcare box. Put yourself in the mind of your patients and ask yourself, What are they really interested in? What information do they need to better manage their illnesses? What kind of support do they want? It’s not about you.

Identify your market 

Make sure you’re very clear about exactly who should be part of the patient community. Consider age, gender, location, illness, interests, comfort with technology, and more. Once you think you’ve identified the right market, spend time interviewing the patients you’re targeting to discover if they’re really interested in your community.


With your first members, give your ideas a try. Set specific metrics to monitor. See how they work. If things aren’t working, it’s time to iterate.

Know your hypothesis

When you’re investigating something new with your patient community, start with a clear solution.

Ask lots of questions

You’ll need to dig deep to understand the issues from your members’ perspectives. If you’re gathering information by phone or face to face, keep asking why until you get to the heart of the issue. 

Make your survey responses actionable

Make sure that the responses you gather lead to actionable items. What specific changes will these answers lead to? 

Online patient communities can be powerful tools to lead patients to better health at lower cost while developing greater loyalty. However, it’s critical that you start with the right concept and iterate as your community grows.

Following these key steps will help you create a community that delivers the results you want – for your hospital and for your patients.  

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