ABSTRACT: Analysis of the Social Network Development of a Virtual Community for Australian Intensive Care Professionals
Social media platforms can create virtual communities, enabling healthcare professionals to network with a broad range of colleagues and facilitate knowledge exchange. In 2003, an Australian state health department established an intensive care mailing list to address the professional isolation experienced by senior intensive care nurses. This article describes the social network created within this virtual community by examining how the membership profile evolved from 2003 to 2009. A retrospective descriptive design was used. The data source was a deidentified member database. Since 2003, 1340 healthcare professionals subscribed to the virtual community with 78% of these (n = 1042) still members at the end of 2009. The membership profile has evolved from a single-state nurse-specific network to an Australia-wide multidisciplinary and multiorganizational intensive care network. The uptake and retention of membership by intensive care clinicians indicated that they appeared to value involvement in this virtual community. For healthcare organizations, a virtual community may be a communications option for minimizing professional and organizational barriers and promoting knowledge flow. Further research is, however, required to demonstrate a link between these broader social networks, enabling the exchange of knowledge and improved patient outcomes.