Look before you leap: 5 things you must know before you launch an online patient community                  

Yesterday I presented a webinar with Dan Dunlop, my partner at Jennings, packed with practical steps you should take before you launch an online patient community.

In the webinar I covered:

  • the critical research you must complete before you launch your community. 
  • the biggest mistake most new communities make — and how to avoid it. 
  • how to tell if your stakeholders are really on board.
  • the importance of gaining buy-in from both executives and clinical staff.

Dan did a great job setting the stage by presenting his thoughts on the changing face of healthcare marketing and why Return on Community is a more important concept than Return on Investment.

Bonus: Download Dan’s e-book The Value of Return on Community.

The webinar takes just 35 minutes. Watch it here, and let us know what you think. In the webinar I offer the useful research PDF document 20 Essential Questions to Ask Potential Members of Your Online Patient Community. You can download that here as well. 


Three research steps critical to the success of your online patient community

Before you design and launch your online patient community, it’s essential that you complete critical research in 3 areas:

First, search for existing competition

Are there online patient groups that are already thriving in your community? How successful are they? Do they target the same patients you want to engage? It’s tough to start a new group if there is already a successful community in your area. 

Second, interview 20-30 potential community members

This is where you find out if your idea has legs, and helps you begin to identify the core members of your new community. You’ve got to dig deep to find out their interests and activities. Through this process you learn if potential members believe they would find enough value in the community to keep coming back.

Bonus: Download our PDF 20 Essential Questions to Ask Potential Online Community Members 

Third, interview your key stakeholders

It’s important to know if your chief marketing officer or other key decision-makers will ensure you have the resources (people, time, and money) to help the community succeed. But don’t forget to make sure that key clinical staff back the initiative as well.

Providers, nurses, nutritionists, and therapists can all be valuable partners in encouraging patients to join and participate in your community. But they can also throw up roadblocks. Use these interviews to highlight the benefits of your community, but make sure you’re asking direct questions to evaluate their support.

Important benefits

Conducting these three research steps before you invest in your online patient community will reap important benefits. They’ll establish a firm foundation for your community or help you avoid an expensive mistake.

@GetSocialHealth podcast explores the benefits of online patient communities

Janet Kennedy is an enthusiastic champion of healthcare social media.

She hosts the Get Social Health podcast each week to inspire hospitals, medical practices, healthcare practitioners and patients connect and engage via social media.

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Janet for today’s podcast. She is an engaging host with an inquisitive mind — and great voice to match. Here’s the link to the podcast and some of the questions I answer.


  • How do you gauge success in an online community?
  • What do we mean by return on community?
  • What are the main benefits of starting an online patient community?
  • Can online patient communities support population health?
  • What are the most important features inside a community?
  • How important is a community manager, and what skills are essential for good community management?
  • What are the most active types of patient communities?
  • What are the four steps to creating and maintaining a successful online community?
  • What is the CareHubs community platform?
  • How long should a hospital plan to support a patient community?
  • How should patient communities respond to trolls?
  • How do online communities help patient engagement?

Online community provides essential emotional support during patient clinical trial

The Mayo Clinic Division of Brain Rehabilitation was faced with a dilemma.

Physicians had developed an outstanding treatment protocol for traumatic brain injury (TBI) with excellent results. But many older patients with TBI live in rural areas and are unable to travel to a large medical center for treatment.

How could Mayo Clinic bring the clinical care and emotional support patients needed to their local communities?

The solution: A clinical trial that connects patients, their families and providers with specialized brain rehabilitation providers through the innovative application of an online patient community. 

Dr. Allen Brown presented an overview of the trial at last month’s Social Media Health Network annual meeting in Rochester, Minn.

How this clinical trial works

  • The trial includes TBI patients in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • Patients receive care in their local communities.
  • Patients designate family members or significant others to be part of the community.
  • Providers join in.
  • All participants are connected to Mayo Clinic and each other through the CareHubs online patient community software.

The CareHubs software becomes a private, secure, personal care hub for emotional and clinical support. “One of the most frequent patient requests is, ‘I wish I could talk to someone else who has this,’” explained Dr. Brown.

The secure site includes:

  • Customized introductory videos for providers and for the patient and family.
  • Question and answer section featuring specialists who answer questions, suggest treatment options, and direct patients and providers to resources.
  • Conversation area where patients and their families can share experiences with one another and provide emotional support.
  • A platform for online events, education, and presentations.
  • Extensive user-level analytics.

When the trial ends, Dr. Brown hopes the intervention will result in:

  • Better participation outcomes.
  • More integration in community.
  • Greater satisfaction with care.
  • Local providers reporting that patients are more capable because they have skills they didn’t have before.

The trial has just begun, and results won’t be tabulated for some time, but this unusual use for online community software holds great promise for patient care. (Download a PDF summary of the clinical trial.) 

Thinking image designed by Jens Tärning from the Noun Project