Studying Virtual Communities for patients with chronic illnesses, in Forumclinic – Imma Grau

November 27, 2009

“Innovative health technologies: health systems in transition Workshop”

Supported by: Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3)

Organized by: Francisco Lupiáñez-Villanueva (Internet Interdisciplinary Institute –UOC) and Michael Hardey (Hull/York Medical School – Science and Technology Studies Unit, Department of Sociology, University of York)

Data: 27th November

Place: UOC IN3 building. Av. Canal Olímpic, s/n. Edifici B3, 08860 Castelldefels (Barcelona)

Imma Grau – Studying Virtual Communities for patients with chronic illnesses, in Forumclinic

Conventional clinical care can be complemented by digital information and communication technologies, while offering an opportunity to enhance patient autonomy. It has been suggested that people with a high level of autonomy make a more intensive use of Internet and that this use, in turn increases the level of autonomy. Internet would appear to be a powerful tool for complementing the health care of chronic patients.

The Web 2.0 virtual environments promote collaboration and quick exchange of information among users. Some of such groups of Internet users have become working virtual communities, as defined by Barry Welman: networks of interpersonal links that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity. The same need applies to many health information seekers.

Forumclinic is a DVD and web-based interactive programme for patients, aimed to improve patient autonomy regarding personal health matters. Authors are professionals from Hospital Clinic, a university hospital and leading research institution, and from associated health centres. The “Fundación BBVA”, a non-profit organization of a bank, finances the project.

On the web, information for each illness section is classified into four categories: 1) Text that summarises basic data on each disease; 2) News, updated weekly from recent research, related to every illness that is of potential interest to the chronic patient, produced by health professionals with a journalistic approach; 3) Videos and 3D animations that explain biological mechanisms or techniques for treatment or rehabilitation in order to facilitate the understanding of the text; and 4) the professionally-moderated discussion forums.

Forums facilitate dynamic group interaction between professionals and patients through direct communication, introduction of topics raised by the patients, or through the ‘suggest a topic’ box.

In this presentation I’ll explain how we did the analysis on the generated Virtual Communities using three tools:

The first is based on the results provided by Google Analytics, after separation of data by disease. For the second, we ask users to register, include their socio demographic data. This has allowed us, through analysis of server logs to obtain general behaviour patterns. Finally, the third method is a qualitative method: participant observation. The information of the present analysis corresponds to the year 2008.

Imma Grau

Degree in Telecommunications Engineering, post graduate in Technology and Organization Management and Innovation followed by a Media and Communication Studies Degree, all at Ramon Llull University. Advanced Studies Diploma from “ Information and Knowledge Society” in the IN3 PhD programme (UOC).
Currently working as Audiovisual Area manager of the Clinic Hospital, Barcelona, and Director of forumclinic Interactive Programme providing therapeutic education to people with long-term illnesses, developed using information and communication technologies, with the financial support of Foundation BBVA, the Science and Education Department, the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, and some patient associations collaboration. 

Her research is focussed on studying the diffusion and uses of information and communication technology health services, and Internet as a medium for spreading scientific knowledge. She was involved in the Technological Modernisation, Organisational Change and Service Delivery in the Catalan Public Health System group, directed by Manuel Castells within the framework of the Internet Intedisciplinary Institute (IN3-UOC).