In recent years, the healthcare industry has witnessed a significant shift towards digital patient communities, mainly as a result of patient demand for better, more personalized experiences. Digital healthcare communities play a pivotal role in revolutionizing the healthcare landscape, offering a platform where patients, healthcare providers, and pharmaceutical companies converge to share information, experiences, and support. These communities serve as invaluable resources for patients, providing them with knowledge about their conditions, treatment options, and management strategies.

The most successful online communities provide a shared space where participants feel a strong sense of belonging. Belonging can be defined as experiencing a sense of connection, acceptance, and inclusion. By having access to others facing similar health challenges, patients find comfort and connection through shared experience, gain important insights into their conditions, and access emotional support, thus decreasing anxiety, and enhancing their overall well-being.

At RxPx, we’ve partnered with the world’s leading pharmaceutical organizations and healthcare providers to create patient support apps that deliver personalized social support, education, and coaching which have been proven to increase therapy adoption and adherence.

Research- backed and evidence-based methodologies are the foundation of our design process. We recently commissioned a study on fostering belonging using digital patient communities. The study and paper were conducted by prominent doctors and researchers from the University of British Columbia’s department of Medicine- Dr.Kathleen A. Martin Ginis Ph.D. and Adrienne R. Sinden M.Sc. From their research, we’ve pulled a list of the most effective ways to increase a sense of belonging in digital patient communities.

1. Create a Welcoming Environment

Here’s how:

  • Provide an open and supportive atmosphere: Establish an open, honest, and supportive environment where differences are embraced. Treat all users equally and with respect, regardless of their background or skill level.
  • Foster genuine interactions: Encourage genuine interactions between moderators and users. Listen actively, show empathy, and validate users’ opinions and feelings.
  • Encourage personal connection: Allow users to get to know their moderators personally. This personal connection can enhance trust and foster a sense of belonging.

2. Provide Different Types of Support

Here’s how:

  • Provide access to experts: Provide access to experts and services that offer users emotional, tangible, and informational support. Ensure users have contact information for relevant experts and services.
  • Varied support channels: Offer a variety of support channels such as real-time chatting, discussions, and comments. Pair moderators strategically with users to facilitate stronger connections.
  • Flexible program design: Be prepared to adapt the program according to users’ needs. Flexibility regarding posting expectations and program structure can enhance user engagement.

3. Create Opportunities for Online Interaction

Here’s how:

  • Gamification: Leverage the power of games to encourage participation and engagement. Game play can foster a sense of confidence, belonging, and autonomy among users.
  • Organized activities: Organize online and offline activities where users can work together. This collaborative approach promotes learning, sharing, and community engagement.
  • Expert consultations: Invite health experts to offer free online consultations periodically. This benefits current users and attracts new users to the community.

4. Reward and Recognize Participation

Here’s how:

  • Recognition systems: Recognize users’ participation through rewards, reputation systems, or online/offline events. Recognition systems can boost self-esteem and foster a sense of belonging.
  • Encouragement and positive reinforcement: Provide encouragement and positive reinforcement to users who motivate each other. Creating a supportive environment encourages continued participation.
  • A recently diagnosed patient who joined one of our digital communities had shared a piece of feedback in regards to their experience, “Reading how others have coped and are moving forward in positive ways has really made me hopeful. Thank you all so much.”

5. Provide Mentorship and Role Modeling

Here’s how:

  • Mentorship culture: Cultivate a mentorship culture within the community to promote equity, inclusion, and diversity. Encourage users to provide peer support and motivation.
  • Ongoing program structure: Ensure the program is ongoing so that past users can provide mentorship and role modelling for newer users. Encourage past participants to remain engaged and provide support.

6. Connect Members Based on Similarities

Here’s how:

  • Small group connections: Create small groups of users with similar interests to encourage sharing and connection. Encourage users to connect based on shared hobbies, health goals, or activity preferences.
  • A patient engaged in one of our digital communities had this piece of feedback to share in regards to their group connection, “I’ve really gained more clarity from this app than I originally thought I was going too! I used to sit in hospital beds and at home, wondering if there was someone out there experiencing what I’m experiencing, and how they’re getting through it. And now, I KNOW.”
  • Cross-boundary connections: Provide opportunities for users to form connections that cut across traditional boundaries. Encouraging diverse connections enhances social interactions and information exchange.

7. Provide Training and Tailored Content

Here’s how:

  • Training on app usage: Provide comprehensive training on using and participating in the community. Tailor training programs to users’ educational background, language, and literacy levels.
  • Tailored content: Design content that reflects participants’ social contexts, languages, and cultural preferences. Ensure the online community is accessible across different technology platforms and to users with diverse abilities. In our Oncology Adherence Program, 70% of patients digested 4 educational health programs.

8. Provide Opportunities for Participant Feedback

Here’s how:

  • Feedback mechanisms: Establish ongoing feedback mechanisms for users to offer suggestions and input on the program. Enable feedback through digital channels and face-to-face interactions.
  • Ongoing dialogue: Maintain an ongoing dialogue with users about the structure and format of the program. Incorporating user feedback enhances user satisfaction and engagement.

Why Invest in Patient Communities?

Through these patient community platforms, providers can stay updated on the latest medical advancements, treatment protocols, and patient perspectives, ultimately improving the quality of care they deliver. Additionally, these communities facilitate collaboration among healthcare professionals, fostering interdisciplinary approaches to complex medical cases and enabling more comprehensive patient care.

From the perspective of pharmaceutical companies, digital healthcare communities offer a unique opportunity to engage directly with patients and healthcare providers, gaining valuable insights into patient needs, treatment outcomes, and the real-world effectiveness of medications. By actively participating in these communities, pharmaceutical companies can gather feedback on their products, address patient concerns, and tailor their marketing strategies to meet the needs of patients and providers better. Moreover, these communities serve as platforms for clinical trial recruitment and patient education, helping to accelerate the development and adoption of innovative treatments.

Digital healthcare communities are crucial in empowering patients, facilitating knowledge exchange among healthcare providers, and enabling collaboration between stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem. By leveraging the collective wisdom and experiences within these communities, patients, healthcare providers, and pharmaceutical companies stand to benefit from improved healthcare outcomes, enhanced patient care, and accelerated innovation in healthcare delivery.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can foster belonging within patient communities using your therapies, book your free, personalized demo today.