Online Health Communities: A New Frontier in Health Research

October 3rd, 2016
By Editorial Team

As we transcend into the Health 2.0 ecosystem, where the notion of patients using technologies to take control of their personal wellbeing has become more commonplace, our entire global healthcare system has begun to shift. A field once dominated by academia and big-name pharmaceutical industries, has now seen the rise of a third category of stakeholders, who have the potential to transform the healthcare industry on levels unseen previously. This rising group is made up of online health communities — patients, caregivers, friends, family members, and interested citizen-scientists — who have begun to rally around specific healthcare conditions and concerns, and who have bonded over their shared experiences, frustrations, elations, and questions.

While the use of social media tools and online health communities as hubs for medical innovation might seem like a stretch, their importance cannot be overstated. Communication is now multidirectional; information is more accessible, and experience-sharing is both simple and fast. Participatory health is on the rise as a result, and patients are becoming more engaged in their healthcare via technologies accessible to them(1–3). In an industry that spends trillions of dollars a year, it can pay both figuratively, and literally, to follow the trend and harness its potential (1,2).

From descriptive cohort and observational studies, to drug development, design, and clinical trials, online communities have incredible potential to change the efficiency, feasibility, and speed of health research, while engaging a larger population than ever before. Read the full story by Amrita Bhowmick, Chief Community Officer and Casey Hribar, medical writer, about how online health communities can impact health research in numerous ways: