Personalized Health: How Online Communities Are Revolutionizing Care
Improving access to health care has been at the forefront of the American agenda for the past few years. Patients realize the importance of being able to make informed decisions about their health and are increasingly able to turn to the Internet and new technologies to do so.
Today, 77 percent of patients use search engines, such as Google and Bing, to aid their research or find others who have dealt with similar health concerns. In the recovery community, this is especially apparent by the many forums, blogs, and online groups that connect people in recovery and their families.
As more and more patients are going online to research and learn more about health decisions they make, online communities and mobile applications support this proactive approach to health care. Sharecare, an online medical community, recently expanded its services to include a network of health experts who answer user questions free of cost. Similarly, HealthTap is a mobile application and website that allows users to anonymously ask certified doctors questions. WebMD Answers and Patients Like Me are two more of the many online communities supporting consumers as they make personal health decisions.
While users of these sites often receive answers from their peers or national experts, the Sharecare platform has added a feature that connects users with local doctors and offers appointment scheduling to handle concerns that cannot easily be addressed online. ZocDoc offers similar capabilities, allowing consumers to find nearby doctors under their insurance coverage, see availability, and book an appointment online.
For consumers, the benefits are obvious – easier access to sound medical advice – and there are also clear benefits for doctors and health organizations. These platforms provide doctors and organizations the opportunity to enhance their online reputations and build a strong referral community. However, consumers and the medical community should remain cautious while browsing these sites, understanding that ratings and reviews are personal and biased based on the experience of each individual.
As technology continues to play an increasingly important role in improved access to health care for patients, learn how your organization can join the movement by reading the tips below.
TIPS OF THE MONTH
This month, we look at online health and patient communities. These communities allow users to easily interact with experts and health organizations to address their questions and concerns. Below, we have provided a few tips on how you can use these platforms to connect with your audience.
- Educate others on how to find the right community. There are hundreds of patient communities including those mentioned above. Direct your fans and followers to the online communities that may be most helpful for them. A few recovery-focused communities include SoberRecovery and In The Rooms.
- Use social media to showcase your expertise and leadership. Post relevant and timely information about how health policy changes might affect your audience. This can help establish trust among your followers and within the larger community.
- Be responsive with your online audience. As the health industry becomes increasingly active online, people will begin to expect social media to be a place where they can ask questions and hear directly from your organization. If you don’t already have a plan to review your social channels regularly and answer questions that have been posed, begin thinking about a schedule or plan to enhance your responsiveness.
- Ensure your audience understands its rights under the Affordable Care Act. Changes to health care are happening in our country, making behavioral health services more accessible than ever before. Americans may increasingly turn to the Internet for behavioral health advice, so be sure your fans and followers are aware of these changes and how they could impact their care.
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