March 2018 – For(u)ming a Solution: Evaluating Online Patient and Member Forums

Online communities are discussion forums where members can read and contribute to exchanges on health-related topics. In some cases, members can customize the forum or message board and share information across their connections. A well-curated community can serve as a primary resource for sharing personal stories and health data about conditions, medications, symptoms and treatments. Users can find support and gain new knowledge from other members and healthcare experts. This report reviews online communities operated or promoted by Healthcare Monitor coverage group firms.

We found that health plan websites promote online patient communities to varying degrees; the most common access point is a member site section that requires a separate login to a third-party platform. Best-in-class firms promote basic community information on member sites, offer well-designed platforms with filtering and search options, and encourage high levels of participation with members via comments, sharing and interaction features. All reviewed communities offer text-based discussion, but less than half provide video-based content. Other valuable, though less common, features include user mentions in discussion comments or posts and enrollment in community email newsletters.

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