#Med2 – Online Communities in Support of Health and Wellbeing: A Case of #hcsmca

Doctors

Social media are powerful tools for building communities of like-minded individuals who share common interests and goals. As part of our on-going research on online communities, our lab often explores how communities start and are maintained online via social media. Our goal is to discover and understand the different kinds of communities that can be created and sustained online, and the different motivations that support participation in these collectives. We are especially interested in understanding their operation, identifying key constituents, and following topic threads.
For the past year, researchers at our lab, Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd (@gruzd) and his collaborator Dr. Caroline Haythornwaite of UBC, collected tweets of an online community (#hcsmca) interested in social media and health in Canada. They have been analyzing the data from this Twitter community to get a better understanding of how interactions on Twitter:
  • provide individuals with exposure to new information,
  • support learning and adoption of new knowledge or practices,
  • maintain participation in the community.
The preliminary results of this research will be presented this week in London, UK at Medicine 2.0, the leading academic conference series for Internet, Social Media, and mobile apps in health. Below is an abstract of this research. The full paper will eventually be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR).  If you have any questions about this research, please contact Dr. Gruzd or Dr. Haythornthwaitte.

 

Paper Abstract

Background
The use of social media has spread so dramatically and pervasively in the past 15 or so years that its place is all but taken for granted. Yet, with the rapid growth in number of users, types of media, and applications, there is still a lot to learn about how to use such media appropriately and effectively. In particular, there is still a lot to learn about how such media can support offline behaviors, e.g., those relating to health and wellbeing, and how interacting online can be an effective support mechanism for communicating, learning, promoting and maintaining healthy regimes.

Objective
This paper reviews research on online community, with particular attention to how communities start and are maintained online.

Methods
The case of #hcsmca – a twitter community interested in social media and health in Canada is discussed as a demonstration of the kinds of analyses that are possible from such data. Of particular interest from analyses of such data is understanding of how interactions provide individuals with exposure to new information, support learning and adoption of new knowledge or practices, and maintain participation in the community.

Results
The nature of community in an online context is discussed, as well as the different kinds of communal forms that can be created and sustained online, and the different motivations that support participation in these collectives. The review also considers the kinds of data that can be readily compiled from online communities as a way of understanding their operation, identifying key constituents, and following topic threads.

Conclusions
Where online communities are established to support behavior change, a major question is how such online interaction maps to offline behavior. To address this, the paper concludes with some discussion of online/offline synergies, and suggested directions for investigating how online interaction supports offline behaviors relating to health and wellbeing.

 

If you are interested in #hcsm, check out this infographic by Sarah Visintini, a research assistant here at the lab. The infographics provides some tips on how and why health care organizations and practitioners can use social media to  better connect to their patients and their community.