Background: Online communities that focus on health-related matters have rapidly increased in number in the last several years or so. The increasing demand from health consumers for such forums have led several leading health care organizations (HCOs), including Kaiser Permanente and Johns Hopkins, to establish online communities/discussion forums as part of their patient-support services. Patients' interactions in such HCO-led online health communities potentially add another important dimension to the overall patient experience. However, there has been limited research focus on measuring or evaluating patients' experience in such online health communities.
Purposes: The objective of this study was to evaluate patients' online community experience (OCE) and examine its impact on patients' attitude toward the HCO and its services.
Method: The data collection was conducted using an online questionnaire sent to consumers/patients who participated in the online health communities of three large academic medical centers: the Johns Hopkins Pathology discussion board, run by the pathology department at Johns Hopkins University; the MD Anderson Cancer survivor board, run by MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas; and the Joslin Discussion Board, run by Joslin Diabetes Center affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Confirmatory factor analysis was done to validate the four dimensions of OCE. Linear regression technique was used to validate the impact of OCE on patient attitudes.
Findings: The results provide support for four dimensions of patients' OCE: pragmatic, empathic, sociability, and usability. Furthermore, all these four dimensions of OCE had a positive impact on patient's attitudes toward the HCO and its services.
Practice Implications: An understanding of the four dimensions of patient experience in online health communities and its implications on patient attitudes could help HCOs to design, deploy, and manage such online health communities more effectively.