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? 

How to create a thriving HIPAA-compliant online patient community

If you’re thinking about launching an online patient community, here is what you must know first – and how Hive Strategies can help.

Most online communities fail

Without proper preparation and active management, Gartner says “be ready for the community to fail.”

Successful online communities can provide remarkable benefits to hospitals and health systems

Evidence-based market research has shown that successful online patient communities can:

  • Increase loyalty, elicit strong emotional connections, and significantly reduce switching to other health systems.
  • Promote recommended behavior.
  • Fill important gaps in supportive care.
  • Increase patient engagement, empowerment and well-being.

As we move from fee-for-service to population management, online communities can play a significant role in helping your patients achieve better health at lower costs while developing greater loyalty to your physicians and hospitals.

There is a proven pathway to online community success

Hive Strategies helps clients create successful online patient communities through a Discovery process that includes extensive interviews and research and answers 5 essential questions:

  • What business or marketing challenge will my online community help me solve?
  • What is the unique position of my community?
  • What are the objectives for my community, including clear, measurable outcomes and timelines?
  • Are key stakeholders on board?
  • What resources are necessary for my community to succeed?

A Roadmap to Online Community Success

After completing the Discovery process, we provide:

  • A detailed community profile of who should join the community, how they would join, why they would join, and what will keep them coming back.
  • Specific marketing strategies to drive awareness of and enrollment in the community.
  • A resource plan, including specific people and budgets that will be committed to the community.
  • Specific benefits to your hospital or health system, patients, caregivers or family members.
  • A list of specific, measurable community outcomes.

Contact Dan Hinmon at 503-435-8346 for specific ways we can help you create a thriving online patient community. 

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.