Patients, Physicians and Online Communities

December 14, 2009


Olivier LAURENT - CEO at Coligane group


The internet has shortened distance between the patients and physicians. Further, both the patients and physicians are able to communicate with their respective communities in a broader fashion. Applications such as the Health 2.0 have opened up a virtual interactive world that goes beyond boundaries of caste, creed, countries and continents. While it has improved the knowledge about healthcare and created awareness about better health, Health 2.0 has also created newer avenues for the pharmaceutical industry to reach both patients and physicians at the same instant. The online communities governed by both patients and physicians are becoming quite popular and are influencing the decision making in the healthcare industry.

Increasing popularity

According to ‘Taking the Pulse® v8.0,’ one of the latest physician market research that has been released by Manhattan Research, more than 50% of the physicians have expressed interest in using several online physician communities as a resource for discussing issues regarding patient care, soliciting feedback from patients and colleagues, and also offer their valuable insight to fellow physicians. 1 On the other hand, the survey by iCrossing in 2008 revealed the popularity of internet among patients, caregivers and the general population.2 It has also reported that patients and caregivers consult different online communities for obtaining information about a disease and the best available treatment option.2 Thereby online communities are becoming widely accessed form of social media in this world where more and more people are now aware of the need to maintain better health.

Online communities for decision support

Several features of the internet have helped the patients to make decisions about their treatment and test procedures. Through the online communities patients can view videos of physicians and other patients discussing about specific diseases, their treatment options and their overall outcomes. They can also obtain social support for specific disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, obesity, and cancer.3 Physician communities on the other hand has become a platform for sharing their observations about findings from their practices and exchanging medical insights. It is also being used to gather information about current medical practices and to be updated about newer guidelines and technologies in the medical field.4 The online communities are being used by healthcare providers for informing and educating patients about healthy living.5

The ease of access to such information through the online communities has increased the number of people opting for medical therapy and also has considerably increased the compliance to medical therapy. It is good news for healthcare providers and the pharmaceutical companies.

Problems with present online communities

Several studies have evaluated the available sources of information on the internet and user-friendliness of several online communities. The studies noted that there was a lack of proper interactive communication technologies on the internet. 6 While the number of internet users is increasing by and large, a dearth of proper interactive communities can spell disaster for the growing healthcare industry. People tend to avoid visiting communities that are not interesting or interactive enough. Another problem reported by the studies was a lack of authentic information about healthcare measures.6 There are many online communities being promoted by fake companies that provide false health information. There is a need for professional websites that are either maintained by healthcare providers or publish content obtained from healthcare providers. Further, a lack of proper interaction between health professionals and patients was also reported.6 Creating forums for proper interaction between healthcare providers and the patients would not only increase the confidence of the patients over the healthcare system, it will also increase the number of patients opting for proper medical therapy for their disorders.

Pros and cons according to physicians

A majority of the healthcare providers opined that online communities may enhance the patients’ knowledge regarding their health. Thereby the healthcare providers also accept the important role of online communities in promoting health needs among patients. On the contrary, physicians also felt that inappropriate health information being circulated over these online communities heightened cost of healthcare of the patients. It also led to decrease in the time efficiency of the visit. It becomes quite difficult for the physicians to convince about wrong information. Many physicians also noted that the information on the online communities were not relevant to the patient’s health conditions in many instances and were even completely wrong.7

Budding opportunities

Online communities can have a have a profound effect on the practice and business of medicine. It has made physicians to adapt to the changing virtual world wherein the need for online services, patient friendly websites and forums and online administrative services is on the rise.8 With the number of internet aware patients increasing, it is much easier to reach patients in this online world. However, the physicians need to be well equipped for meeting the growing demands. At the same time patients will be benefited by the wide amount of healthcare information available to them. Nevertheless, they need to be educated about harms of improper care and the healthcare providers and the related players must take steps to prevent the circulation of wrong information.

Many of the physician organizations have been preparing for the electronic transformation while a majority of the physicians are unprepared or reluctant to use the online media for health promotion. 8

This necessitates the need for educating the physicians about the benefits of the online tools for communication about the healthcare needs and treatment procedures. Developing user friendly modules for the physicians is the requirement of this hour wherein the early player who can provide the best service will be widely followed.


Online communities have become a bridge between the patient and physician communities wherein the barriers in the field of healthcare has been broken to a great extent. It has promoted information exchange between patients and physicians alike and has popularized the need for healthcare. The patients have become more aware of their disorders while the physicians are adept with knowledge about the newest treatment options available. However, there are several lacunae in this virtual world which is making it difficult for both the physicians and the patients to reap the complete benefits of the concepts such as Health 2.0. These can be effectively filled with the use of right technology and professional approach to make Health 2.0 user friendly and interactive. Online communities if properly formed and designed can be beneficial for the patients, physicians as well as other players in the healthcare industry.

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  2. iCrossing. How America searchs: health and wellness. Jan 2008.
  3. Schwitzer G. A review of features in Internet consumer health decision-support tools. J Med Internet Res. 2002 Apr-Nov; 4(2):E11.
  5. Khan SA, McFarlane DJ, Li J, Ancker JS, Hutchinson C, Cohall A, Kukafka R. Healthy Harlem: empowering health consumers through social networking, tailoring and web 2.0 technologies. AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2007 Oct 11:1007.
  6. Lupiáñez-Villanueva F, Mayer MA, Torrent J. Opportunities and challenges of Web 2.0 within the health care systems: an empirical exploration. Inform Health Soc Care. 2009 Sep; 34(3):117-26.
  7. Kim J, Kim S. Physicians’ perception of the effects of Internet health information on the doctor-patient relationship. Inform Health Soc Care. 2009 Sep; 34(3):136-48.
  8. Cassirer JP. Patients, physicians, and the Internet. Health off (Millwood). 2000 Nov-Dec; 19(6):115-23.

3 Responses to “Patients, Physicians and Online Communities”

  1. […] Article Olivier Laurent, Coligane Group, 14 December 2009 SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Patients, Physicians and Online Communities", url: "" }); […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bertalan Meskó, MD, Pascal Lansink. Pascal Lansink said: Artsen/patienten en online communities: […]

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