A few weeks ago I gave a talk at the 2013 Pelvic Health Conference in Denver, Colorado, and my focus was on the need for healthcare marketers to build communities of shared interest. These are niche online communities that give patients the opportunity to engage with others who are going through, or have gone through, similar circumstances. When you get a diagnosis, it is natural to want to seek out others who have faced the same set of challenges. Their experience and guidance can be invaluable. And the healthcare provider can inject high quality information and medical expertise, and make available important resources for those visiting the community. The provider is the host and the facilitator, making the interactions possible – helping to create community.
These communities of shared interest have developed independent of healthcare providers. And there are communities for almost any condition you can imagine. One that has recently been in the news is HeartValveSurgery.com. Adam Pick, a patient advocate and former heart valve patient, started the website and online community to empower patients and caregivers from diagnosis to recovery. (Adam is also the author of The Patient’s Guide To Heart Valve Surgery.) The site includes a wide array of resources for heart valve patients: a cardiac surgeon finder, a heart valve clinic finder tool with profiles of the major clinics, a blog, a patient community/social network, patient and physician videos, and more. With its Heart Valve Clinic Directory and Heart Valve Clinic Microsite application, HeartValveSurgery.com now offers patients an end-to-end platform for learning about heart valve surgery.
In the online community portion of the site, patients and family members can write journal entries, upload pictures, and share their stories. Equally important, they can learn about the stories of others and interact with friends, family, patients and caregivers. If you decide to follow a specific patient’s journal, you can elect to have updates sent to you via email, letting you know when new journal entries have been posted.
What is the reach of an online community of this type? Last year, HeartValveSurgery.com had 1.2 million patient and caregiver visits. Hospitals that have chosen to sponsor the site include The Cleveland Clinic, The Mount Sinai Medical Center, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, East Carolina Heart Institute, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and many more.
I discovered HeartValveSurgery.com when one of my clients, the East Carolina Heart Institute at Vidant Medical Center, announced the formation of a new Heart Valve Clinic Microsite that would be hosted on HeartValveSurgery.com. The Heart Valve Clinic Microsite provides patients a simple interface with multimedia capabilities to educate them about valvular therapy and the East Carolina Heart Institute. To visit the microsite, simply click here. Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, Jr., director of the East Carolina Heart Institute, has performed more than 5,000 heart valve procedures and pioneered transformative surgical techniques including robotic mitral valve repair operations.
To date it looks like nine heart valve clinics have developed microsites on HeartValveSurgery.com, recognizing the opportunity to share information with patients and family members visiting the online community. This is truly a “community of shared interest.” And this type of community is only going to become more prevalent over time. It is time for healthcare marketers to embrace their new role as community builders and facilitators.