Online treatment communities: the ideal way for healthcare companies to talk to patients and meet business objectives

Online Treatment Communities for patients
Dawn Lacallade post by: Dawn Lacallade

When facing an illness, one of the first things that patients and caregivers do is go online for information and look to online treatment communities, writes Dawn Lacallade, chief social strategist and pharma practice lead at social media specialist LiveWorld. 

Once they’re online, they’re likely to find a treatment community – and stay once they find one that meets their needs. Not only are these groups a tremendous source of information, comfort, and advocacy for millions of people, they offer an unparalleled way for healthcare companies to communicate with their patients and consumers one-to-one.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently discussed the value of groups like online treatment communities, saying: “We recently found that more than 100 million people on Facebook are members of what we call ‘very meaningful’ groups. These are groups that upon joining, quickly become the most important part of our social network experience and an important part of our physical support structure.”

A patient’s journey on social media

Most patients follow a similar journey to learn more about a health condition. Many search social media for information on their symptoms even before receiving a diagnosis. When they receive a diagnosis from their healthcare provider (HCP), they start a second wave of research, which is when many find digital treatment communities. They are searching for information about their condition from credible sources like pharmaceutical manufacturers and hospitals, as well as directly from fellow sufferers. Abounding with advice and stories, online treatment communities draw people in, providing a crucial source of support for patients and caregivers.

In an article on The Verge, a two-time cancer survivor described the sense of community she found from a disease-state Facebook community.

She wrote: “When the Facebook group moderator approved my entry into the community, I felt like I had finally arrived home. There were dozens of women from all around the world sharing stories about how they discovered their tumors, or caretakers narrating what it was like to help their loved ones through the process. We asked questions about the consequences of a major surgery, and…we’d share any new research paper with interesting analysis about how the tumor may have formed.”

Being a credible voice is more important than ever

Healthcare organizations are moving away from transactional healthcare to a patient-centric, accountable-care model. Hospitals have begun to see results from this model as shown in this recent project from Planetree and the National Academy of Medicine. Medicare is also moving toward value-based healthcare, which bases reimbursement on quality rather than quantity, and is reaching its value-based goals earlier than expected. Pharmaceutical companies need to keep finding ways to connect with their patients to improve health outcomes. This is where online treatment communities play a role. In an era of fake news, it is important for healthcare companies to add their credible voice to these communities.

Treatment and disease-state communities provide patient support, disease-state awareness, advocacy, adherence education, and sympathy to patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. These online spaces have the ability to foster better patient outcomes and enable direct dialogue with patients, which drive patient loyalty and increased patient satisfaction. Social communities also enable healthcare companies to meet their patients’ demand for more online information and one-on-one conversations.

AbbVie’s (NYSE: ABBV) Psoriasis Speaks Facebook page is an excellent example of Mr Zuckerberg’s “very meaningful groups.” This treatment community provides support to psoriasis patients, stating: “The purpose of this Facebook community is to provide a place of support, encouragement, and information sharing for people living with psoriasis in hopes that they’ll have better conversations with their doctors.” At the same time, the AbbVie brand receives significant goodwill and brand exposure for its outreach and can provide expert answers and information.

This article was originally published in The Pharma Letter on August 15, 2017.

Learn more about Community Management and Patient Engagement from LiveWorld.

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