This site is intended for health professionals only

Research shows social networks for patients can kick-start service innovation


6 June 2016

Share this story:

Online communities are providing both patient-to-patient support and opportunities to improve the services offered to them, a study has found.

The four-year study, Creating Value in Online Communities: The Sociomaterial Configuring of Strategy, Platform, and Stakeholder Engagement, from the Warwick Business School found that online communities were valuable for both patients and healthcare stakeholders.

Online communities are providing both patient-to-patient support and opportunities to improve the services offered to them, a study has found.

The four-year study, Creating Value in Online Communities: The Sociomaterial Configuring of Strategy, Platform, and Stakeholder Engagement, from the Warwick Business School found that online communities were valuable for both patients and healthcare stakeholders.

The study found that sites like HealthUnlocked and Mumsnet are helping people cope with chronic illnesses like diabetes and mental health.

But such communities also create a pool of resources that could help healthcare providers and investors, rate services, connect people and companies, track patients and profile them.

Eivor Oborn, professor of health care management at Warwick Business School and one of the study’s researchers, said: “We wanted to see how the millions of user contributions on these online communities can be used to help GPs and hospital doctors.”

She added: “By developing health trackers and getting patients to track their illness on these online communities this improves and speeds up the type of care clinicians can offer. 

“Analytics allows you to understand in precise detail the symptoms of different patients and the effectiveness of different drugs for each type of patient.

“Also, the power in these online communities to identify and attract relevant patients for clinical trials of new drugs is dramatic. 

“For example, health organisations took almost six months to recruit 250 people by traditional means whereas it took one of these online communities just 48 hours.”

The research stemmed from the discovery that patients with a critical need for support in managing their chronic illnesses were finding this level of care outside the system, in online communities.

Through these networks, patients also contributed to medical research and design by reporting their outcomes from different treatments, which can help medical providers and pharmaceutical firms, and improve outreach programmes.

Oborn added: “These online communities are providing critical social support for others.

“This is also supported by a policy environment where the Government wants patients to be empowered and more accountable for their own health.

“Creating value from patients’ own experiential knowledge is one of the untapped areas of managing chronic disease.”

Want news like this straight to your inbox?

Related news

NHS commissioners asked to design HIV services to tackle stigma
The Government has called on NHS commissioners to design and deliver ‘culturally competent’ HIV services,...
NHS leaders need support to facilitate ‘cultural shift’ toward digital transformation
Leaders at all levels should be supported to facilitate the cultural shift needed to deliver...