Every bariatric surgery program in America should sponsor an online patient community

I don’t know why every bariatric surgery program in America doesn’t sponsor an online patient community.

Online communities are proven to build tremendous loyalty when they offer real value, and people considering, waiting for, and recovering from bariatric surgery are the perfect target audience.

Here’s why.

Bariatric patients are researchers

The average bariatric surgery patient spends one to two years researching before committing to a surgery. An open Facebook community is a perfect environment for research. Potential patients can learn about your program, interact with patients, subscribe to your news feeds, read success stories, and share their own concerns, even before they become patients.

Sure, they can do a lot of this on your website, but it’s the interaction with actual patients that is the clear differentiator.

Online communities are powerful marketing tools

The most common gateway to bariatric surgery is an informational session. You gather patient information, qualify for insurance, and maybe set an appointment. What if they’re not ready for an appointment? You put them on an e-newsletter list or follow up with phone calls.

How about instead inviting them to join your online community? Watch as they develop online friendships with those who have already completed their surgeries. The emotional ties begin to build.

And what about patients who are going through lengthy waiting periods complying with insurance requirements or improving their health? A supportive community can keep them connected while they wait.

Bariatric patients need help

The glue that holds successful online patient communities together is self-disclosure. The more members of the community share their worries, fears, hopes, dreams, disappointments and frustrations, the stronger the community becomes.

Your providers, dietitians, and psychologists can play vital support roles, but there’s nothing like interacting with others who personally understand what you’re going through.

The results of successful bariatric surgery are amazing

Wow! Testimonials of weight loss patients really are riveting. No more diabetes. No more leg pain. No more sleep apnea. No more gout. I can run again! The list goes on and on.

Amazing results turn bariatric patients into super fans

These amazing results turn your bariatric patients into super fans. As they see the pounds melt away they love how they look and how they feel, and they want to tell everyone about it. What better place to share than in the online patient community?

Bariatric patients are long-term community members

First there are the introductory sessions. Then the insurance compliance or health requirements. Then the surgery. Then the recovery. Then the weight-loss. Then developing new life habits. Patients can contribute to and learn from the community for many years.

A thriving community benefits everyone

Bottom line: Your bariatric center can reap tremendous benefits.

  • More surgeries completed!
  • Search engine optimization for your website from community activity.
  • More patients retained through the sales cycle.
  • Rerrals. Referrals. More referrals. 
  • Online support can lead to greater compliance and fewer post-surgery complications.

Every bariatric surgery program should be sponsoring Facebook patient communities! 

20 essential questions to ask potential members of your Facebook patient community

Too many online patient communities are created without the right preliminary research. The result? A ghost town. 

You can avoid that disaster by interviewing 5-10 potential members of the community first. In the interviews you have three important objectives:

  • Identify competition.
  • Find out what patients’ online interests and habits are.
  • Determine who could be founding members of your community.

Who, then, should you interview? Those patients who fit squarely within the patient profile you’re targeting for your online community.

Perhaps you have a support group already meeting around your community concept. Or you have patients who are actively commenting on your hospital Facebook page. Or simply make a list of 10-15 current or former patients. 

You can conduct the interviews on the phone or face to face. Another option is to conduct a patient focus group, but this should be in addition to the individual interviews, not instead. 

The introduction to the interview

Suppose you’re considering a bariatric surgery community. Here’s how you might introduce the concept in the interview. 

Example opening: We are considering starting an online community for weight loss surgery patients. It would be a closed Facebook Group that you could join. There you could have conversations with other people preparing for their weight loss surgery, or who have had the surgery. Share advice. Give support. Ask questions. Just say how you’re feeling. Or what you’re struggling with. You could also get current, accurate information about procedures, diet, exercise, change, side effects.

Here are 20 questions to ask

Are you aware of online communities like this?

Do you belong to any? (Ask follow-up questions. It’s important to find out if there are existing online communities that already meet your patients’ needs. )

Does this sound like a community you would want to be a part of? Why? Or why not? (If no, dig deeper to discover why. This is valuable information!)

What other options would you like to see in this community?

What would your dream community look like?

What would an outstanding community have?

What would you hope to gain from this community?

What are your biggest problems/challenges you face today?

What do you think are the biggest concerns/worries that other patients like you have?

Why would you go online to the community? Help others? Receive support? Get information? Connect with people like you? Ask questions? See what other people are talking about? Make new friends?

Do you know anyone else who would want to belong to this community? 

What would keep you coming back to the community?

How many times a week do you think you would visit this community?

How much time would you spend in a community like this?

When in your daily routine would you make time for it?

Who do you think would make the perfect members of this community?

What kind of patients should not belong to this community?

If you were to ask a question to this community today, what would it be?

Would you find this community helpful in your life?

Would you consider being a founding member of this community? 

The Value of Building Tiny Habits in Online Patient Communities

Are you looking for a method to motivate members of your online patient communities to make changes in their lives?

Consider the power of tiny habits.

Professor BJ Fogg, Ph.D., has spent a lifetime studying how human behavior works. He directs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University and works to create systems that change human behavior.

Fogg calls his work Behavior Design.

The key to change, Fogg has found, is the right combination of motivation, ability and triggers. He’s taken the system and reduced it to three simple steps.

Start small

 Think of something you want to do. Make it as simple as possible. For instance, if you want to start flossing, your goal is to floss one tooth. A tiny goal like this makes it more likely you’ll actually accomplish it. “The easier the behavior, the less it depends on motivation,” Fogg explains, since constant motivation is unreliable.

Find an anchor

An anchor is an activity you are already doing that you can tie to the new habit. It follows this pattern: After I (routine), I will (tiny behavior). For example, after I (brush my teeth) I will (floss one tooth).

Celebrate immediately

To reinforce your success, add a little celebration when you’ve done your tiny habit. Say “Yes!” Raise your arms. Thumbs up. Big smile. Whatever makes you feel good.

Repeat each day for a week.

That’s it. 

Fogg says “the results are the best I’ve ever seen in any program.” Why? Because these tiny habits are so simple they don’t rely on unpredictable motivation. And that dramatically increases the success rate. Over time, tiny habits lead to bigger ones.

Search #tinyhabits on Twitter for tiny testimonials. And if you want, give it a try by signing up (it’s free) for Tiny Habits.

How can you incorporate Tiny Habits into your online patient community?

  • Introduce the concept in your community news section or in a blogpost.
  • Start a conversation: What tiny habit would you like to start?
  • Share some examples of tiny habits:
    • After I answer the phone I will stand and walk while I talk.
    • After I (routine) I will take my meds.
    • After I use the bathroom I will think of one thing I’m grateful for.
    • After I take a drink of water I will take a deep cleansing breath.
    • After I eat my dinner I will put on my exercise shoes.
    • After I feed the dog I will open my health journal.

Sometimes you choose a “before” action.

  • Before I go to bed, I’ll put my blood glucose meter on my nightstand.

 And although it’s a bit more than a tiny step:

  • After I eat my breakfast I will log on to my community.

Upcoming webinar: A vision of healthcare marketing as online community building

One of my favorite presenters is Dan Dunlop, president of Jennings.

I acknowledge my prejudice, since Dan and I partner in this wonderful work of developing online communities for patients. But it is true. Dan is warm and personable and informative and just plain smart with great stories to tell. I love to hear him talk about healthcare.

That’s why I’m excited to announce an upcoming webinar. Dan will present “A Vision of Healthcare Marketing as Online Community Building” on January 28, at 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST. I’ll play the stress-free role of Dan’s webinar host! Read more

@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?