By Lauren Lawhon
President and Chief Operating Officer
When the sun set on the year 2020, the world looked to 2021 with the hope that it would see a return to “normalcy.” Instead, it was a year that seemed equally rocket-fast and glacially-slow and, in many ways, a 12-month extension of 2020. We continued to face fear, isolation and diminishing mental health as the pandemic evolved. In healthcare, we also saw the acuteness of the pandemic affect the balance and priority of care for chronic health conditions, screenings, and prevention. We needed to find a way to connect again – person to person and patient to healthcare – in a time when it mattered the most.
2021 was a year of reconnection. Adapting to a time that even a decade ago would have all but fully isolated us from our communities, we found creative ways to reconnect – with the people we love like friends and family; the people we need like healthcare providers and professionals; and the resources we deserve to help our lives move forward despite feeling stuck. While technology can never replace face-to-face interactions, it gives healthcare an opportunity to continue those vital connections in a time when we are desperately searching for ways to maintain and sustain relationships.
Technologies like telehealth and social media completely transformed how the world connects about health, and the challenges of 2021 created the need and opportunity for the healthcare industry, providers, and patients alike to embrace these technologies more than ever before. No truer is this statement anywhere than within online health communities.
In a time when face-to-face interaction was difficult, online communities helped meet the very human need for deep, meaningful connection. A late 2021 Health Union survey of 2,371 patients found that 95% use online social resources for health reasons and that three in four patients use online social resources at critical points in their health journey. Through partnerships with online communities, the healthcare industry found a means to distribute essential resources to patients, patients were able to stay informed about their conditions and relevant treatments, and most importantly, patients and caregivers found the peer connection and support they desperately needed.