Online health communities have emerged as valuable resources of health information, self-help, and mutual support.
Online Health Communities Rate High
A survey of online health information and support groups for medical conditions rated their online communities as significantly more helpful than either specialist or primary care doctors in 10 of 12 aspects of healthcare.
Specific Survey Results
The specific areas in which online groups received the superior rating were:
- Emotional support
- Compassion / Empathy
- Issues of death and dying
- Best source of medical referrals
- Best source of in-depth information about the condition
- Best source of practical coping tips for the condition
- Most likely to be there in the long run
The online communities also rated slightly higher as a superior source of technical medical knowledge.
The online health communities also rated slightly higher in one additional category. Specialist physicians rated higher in 2 of 12 aspects of healthcare, while primary care doctors received no top ratings. Specialist physicians rated best for diagnosing a condition correctly, and helping to manage a condition after diagnosis.
About the Survey
The survey subjects were experienced users of online information and support communities for their medical conditions. The survey was conducted in March 1998 by Tom Ferguson M.D., senior associate at Boston's Center for Clinical Computing and William Kelly, co-founder and executive vice president of Sapient Health Network, Inc., according to BW HealthWire.
Online Health Communities Are Valuable Resources
Online health communities have emerged as valuable resources of:
- health information
- mutual support
The computer age has linked the resources of information making them easily accessible, and has narrowed the physical distance between people in need of:
Online subscribers have the ability to conveniently reach out to people across the country and across the world. The compassion which exists among people with same or similar illnesses is unique. Issues and concerns in common can be:
- sometimes solved
People with experience can offer practical advice to others less experienced. First-hand knowledge is invaluable. Computers connect people so they can learn and support each other from the convenience of their own home, for no extra cost beyond the regular online subscription.
Online Health Communities Are Best At What Doctors Are Worst At And Vice Versa
In reality the best healthcare is derived from a combination of physicians and online support communities. It has been said that online health communities are best at what doctors are worst at and vice versa. The expertise of physicians in diagnosis and treatment is critical to good healthcare as is the mutual camaraderie in the online health community. A common complaint is that people feel alone with their disease and do not know anyone with the same illness and problems. The Internet has helped bridge that gap, and as the number of Internet users surges online health communities will continue to multiply.
Another Report: The Online Health Care Revolution
According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, "Fifty-two million American adults, or 55% of those with Internet access, have used the Web to get health or medical information. A great many are using the Web to gather information on behalf of family and friends."
Sources: E-Patients Prefer eGroups to Doctors for 10 of 12 Aspects of Health Care, Published in The Ferguson Report, Number 1, March 1999; The Online Health Care Revolution: How the Web helps Americans take better care of themselves, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 11/26/2000