On Monday, we discussed some of the demographic factors that logically led to the development of online communities based on specific health conditions. Rising to that challenge are some incredible communities, such as the twitter account for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (@endstigma).
However, numbers alone don’t tell the full story of these communities. There’s also a human side that I wanted to explore further, so I decided to speak to someone who’s more familiar with these online communities than me, Abigail Keeso. I first became familiar with Abigail’s work via her blog and her work as the Healthcare Contributor for Betakit, where she discusses the impact of technology on personal health and the healthcare space.
Abigail Keeso is passionate about improving the health of all Canadians through emerging technology. Currently she is a Registered Nurse at a downtown Toronto hospital and is working on building a community of healthcare innovators at HealthCareInnovatorsTO.com. She is a graduate from Ryerson University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. She kindly took some time to answer my questions about online communities in healthcare.
1. What do you believe is the most helpful feature of online communities based around specific health conditions?
The most helpful feature is having a designated and accessible place for information sharing. Healthcare professionals mean well but tend to be focused primarily on the biomedical aspect of disease and illness and as a result neglect the environmental, social and psychological influences that often play such an enormous role. These online communities allow people to realize there is much more to treating and coping with their disease than medications or surgeries. Crohnology is a great example of this. The platform allows people with Crohn’s Disease to learn from others, meet people with the disease near them, find successful treatments, and track their health. So while a person’s doctor may be recommending pharmacological treatment of the disease, they might log onto Crohnology and connect with someone who has tried the medication so they can gauge their experience. They may also connect with people who are finding success in adopting non-medical ways of coping with their illness such as through spirituality. The online sharing of perspectives really allows patients to see their disease in a different light. This information sharing aspect isn’t something that comes from a visit to your healthcare provider.
The fact that these communities are online is also huge. They can be accessed by anyone and any time or place whether you live in New York City or Nunavut. People who used to be isolated no longer need to feel alone. All they need is an internet connection.
2. How do you see those communities growing as technology becomes more accessible? What more can they offer their members?
The more people that discover these platforms, the more robust the community will be. Also, with more and more people using smartphones, I feel patients will be taking these communities with them on the go. I envision a patient leaving a doctors appointment and using their smartphone to connect with their community to share their experience or get advice on a suggested treatment.
3. Are these online communities fulfilling an unmet need in the current healthcare system? What can more traditional sources of healthcare information (doctors, nurses, etc) learn from them?
Perhaps they are fulfilling the unmet need of a humanistic touch. Hospitals can feel quite cold, isolated and full of intimidating professionals for patients dealing with a chronic illness. On the other hand, online communities offer a more humanistic support system. There is definitely something to be learned from this for healthcare professionals: we all have room to improve when it comes to providing holistic care and addressing patient needs in the healthcare setting.
4. Is there a role for both these online communities AND traditional medical care in a smoothly functioning healthcare system?
Definitely. I see these online communities acting as complementary therapy to traditional medicine. I think they allow patients to feel empowered to take control of their health.
Abigail will be one of the panelists at HealthConnect, so if you want to hear more of her opinions on technology in the healthcare space, be sure to register!