Article: Using Health-Related Online Communities

AMNews: Sept. 8, 2003. Lurking, listening, learning: Using online support groups: ... American Medical News

This article illustrates the beneficial aspects and risks of health-related online support groups (online communities) for both patients and doctors.

These types of groups have been helping people for years, yet they don't make the "news" too often, so I thought this was a great article- and a great example of the power of online communities.

Interestingly, the article talk about how doctors should react to postings that may bash them or their peers and recommends that they ignore it...

It is common for members to rant about doctors. Interesting or unsettling as that may be, it would be a waste of time for doctors to access online groups just to learn whether patients are lambasting them, Dr. Hoch said. Many patients don't name their physicians, and even if physicians were to find specific negative comments, it's better to let the matter stay in the group and die a natural death.

"You will only make matters worse if you initiate a lawsuit, because frankly, what is it going to look like it if the media get hold of it?" Christiansen said. The ensuing publicity would spread the contents of the negative posting well beyond the number of people who would have read it online.

The article goes further to promote the idea that these negative comments can benefit other physicians.

Still, physicians who come across postings criticizing their peers can ask themselves if they do the same things these doctors are being criticized for, using the experience as an opportunity to improve themselves and their offices, Dr. Fadem said.

Ah yes, the power of negative feedback in online communities.

These health-based support groups are perfect examples of the benefits of online communities. Folks with rare these diseases are part of a real-life community of people who all suffer together and need one another. Unfortunately though, they may not have had a chance to *feel* like they are part of a community, or make *connections* with other sufferers before the Internet.

Now, they can use an Internet connection and easy-to-use tools to come together with their community and share stories, create relationships and support one-another without leaving home. Their community can help them feel better.

If there is a perfect use of the Internet and online communities, that is it.