Health Care Virtual Communities: Challenges and Opportunities

Health Care Virtual Communities: Challenges and Opportunities

Christo El Morr (York University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-670-4.ch013
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Abstract

Virtual Communities (VCs) emerged in the beginning of the 1990’s due to the proliferation of the World Wide Web. Researchers explored the potentials of virtual communities in health and created different types of Health VCs. There is growing evidence that health virtual communities can empower patients with knowledge, facilitate health information dissemination, and provide social and psychological support. Although Health VCs present several advantages, many challenges are still ahead and opportunities as well. This chapter will provide an overview of non-mobile and mobile VCs; it will then provide an overview of Health VCs research and applications as well as their advantages and challenges. The chapter ends with an outline of the main future opportunities and perspectives in Health VCs.
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Introduction

Virtual communities (VCs) have drawn attention of researchers since the inception of the web. Health Virtual Communities (Health VCs) started to take shape in the mid of 1990’s. Nevertheless, even though Health VCs share advantages and challenges with other types of VCs some of the advantages they present and the challenges they face are health care specific. Therefore, there is a need to conduct a Health VCs assessment.

Currently, health informatics is going through fundamental changes due to several developments such as large scale projects to implement Electronic Health Records, the challenges related to the integration of different health care providers/facilities (Hospitals, GPs, community centers, etc.). This state of affairs means that the success of health informatics initiatives and of health care delivery relies on the cooperation of several health caregivers and their exchange of patient information at the right time, in the format, and at the right place.

Furthermore, nowadays mobility is a fact of life; mobile devices and new communication technologies have injected a significant added value to health informatics and a significant challenge as well. On the other hand, health care systems are supposed to provide a continuity of care, providing means for patient to be taken care of while they are away from hospitals. The adoption of this paradigm is promoted by governments worldwide that try to control an ever increasing health care cost (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2007; Reinhardt, Hussey, & Anderson, 2004) and by the rise of chronic diseases in populations around the world (Institute of Aging-University of British Columbia, 2007; World Health Organization, 2005) that puts young and elderly in fragile situations while they need to continue their day-to-day activities. Consequently, patients are more and more expected to be mobile and self managing their health.

In such environment, we can see virtual communities, and especially mobile ones, as an opportunity and a challenge for health care; indeed, they can be used for cooperation in situation of mobility in order to provide continuity of care using self managed care tools.

This chapter aims to explore the above concerns, opportunities, and challenges related to virtual communities and mobility in the health care domain. We will particularly provide a detailed overview of Non-mobile and Mobile Virtual Communities and present a model of VCs; then we will discuss non-mobile and mobile Health Virtual Communities and assess their advantages and challenges. Finally, we will discuss future Health VCs trends.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Self Managed Care: Self Managed Care happens when an individual is empowered to take care of their self independently.

Mobile Virtual Community: A mobile Virtual Community is a virtual community where members use mobile devices in order to communicate and achieve their goals.

Knowledge Management: Knowledge management is a field of research and applications that deals with the creation, use, reuse, and dissemination of Knowledge (e.g. resources, documents, people skills).

Decision Support System: A decision support system (DSS) is software that analyzes organizational data and presents it decision makers so that they can make informed knowledge based organizational decisions.

Virtual Community: A Virtual Community consists of a group of people who ‘meet’ using information technology means in order to achieve a goal while they are distant.

Public Health: Public health is a field of practice in health concerned with the health of the population as a whole; it usually includes health services to that aim to improve and protect community health (e.g. sanitation, immunization, preventive medicine).

Health Promotion: Health promotion is the process of empowering people to increase control over their health in order to improve it.

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