Studies show that people living with chronic conditions benefit from human support in the form of online communities, where they can interact with peers and help each other achieve lasting change.
As it turns out, building community is easier said than done. It requires commitment from those involved, a commitment to join together, despite diversities, to participate in a common cause.
When it comes to healthcare, peer communities aren't a new concept. However, they aren't common either. Most healthcare models focus on regular appointments with medical professionals. While this approach treats disease, it doesn’t offer a system of holistic support. Thankfully, this mindset is changing.
Clinicians and patients alike are beginning to see the ever-growing need for community. With this mindset shift, what keeps healthcare from being able to meet this need?
Not making it tech-enabled
Until recently, peer communities were accessed in person. With the rise of social media though, patients interact with virtual communities daily. Now people can create and interact with friends, family, and connections regardless of location.
Technology bridges the gaps that have made health communities difficult - geography and time. Now patients can connect with other patients and learn from each others' experience.
Health technology connects people who would have difficulty connecting. With online support, patients have a community that is both accessible AND convenient.
Not making it convenient
Convenience plays a huge role in patient participation. In developed countries, convenience is built into everything we do. Naturally, patients expect this of their healthcare experience.
Take these scenarios, for instance:
An unanswered question? Conduct a Google search. Better yet, ask Alexa.
No time to cook? Try Ubereats, or sign up for HelloFresh.
It seems that people can get what they need right when they need it - in everything but healthcare, that is.
So far, healthcare has interacted with patients like they don’t need convenience. The reality is that the time is coming when patients won’t inconvenience themselves for healthcare. If they can’t don't like long waiting periods for appointments, they won't use peer communities that are inconvenient, either.
If future healthcare wants to engage patients effectively, peer support must be convenient. With technology-enabled peer interaction, patients can get just that - community support that fits into their lives.
Not making it accessible
When it comes to chronic disease, timely support is essential. Patients who don’t receive immediate help face worsening symptoms, higher expenses, and possible complications.
Access to a community of “peer experts” is just one way that healthcare can prevent disease. Online peer groups offer guidance for those battling similar symptoms. Instead of waiting a month for an appointment, patients can get immediate advice. Community managers facilitate these conversations to make sure that patients get quality advice and find the exact help they need.
Healthcare has much to learn from the tech and retail industries. These industries know their market. They know what their customer wants, and they know how to make it accessible to all.
Healthcare, on the other hand, has stayed in the same paradigm for decades - reactive medicine that puts many barriers in front of patients seeking treatment. By creating access to an online community, patients can receive care anytime, anywhere.
Not understanding the value
Peer communities don't replace the role of clinicians, nor should they. Instead community and clinicians function together, filling the voids that each role cannot fill.
Working together for better outcomes
Clinicians face time constraints that limit preventative care. Unlike clinicians, patient communities don’t face the same time constraints. Because of this, they play a vital role in holistic health.
Patient experts, however, don’t have the ability to diagnose or treat disease. That’s where clinicians fill the void in preventative care.
Better holistic care for patients
With chronic diseases on the rise, developed countries need to be treating the whole person, not just the symptoms.
This isn’t to minimize the role of monitoring chronic disease. Patients need monitoring. But patients face more than just physical problems when dealing with disease. Disease takes an emotional toll as well.
Patients with chronic disease must adjust their life expectations - sometimes requiring them to give up former lifestyles or employment. As a result, depression is a common side effect.
Mental illness among patients with chronic disease only complicates symptoms. Depression adds increased cardiovascular risks and compounds symptoms. To fully treat chronic disease, patients need a support system that addresses physical, mental, and emotional care.
Since maintaining hope is vital to treating chronic disease, patients need a support network. With older people increasingly living alone, having access to a community online can both instil hope and reduce social isolation.
Communities of like-patients eliminate social isolation that often comes with chronic disease. Patients battling similar diseases have a unique empathy and understanding for the physical and emotional struggles of others in similar circumstances. While clinicians can inspire hope, expert patients add the unique element of empathy.
Increased compliance with care plans
Studies confirm that peer support increases follow through. Patients who lean on the encouragement and expertise of other peer experts find it easier to follow through on care plans created by clinicians.
While patients gain expertise in their disease, they can also therapeutically help others. Patients receive at-home advice that decreases their need for medical intervention.
Expert patients offer an experiential knowledge that many clinicians don’t possess. As such, they help other patients deal with the daily experiences and setbacks associated with chronic illness.
Have you built your peer community?
Discover how to embed consumer experiences, tech-enabled human connection, and scalable healthcare into the future of your organization with this roadmap.