ABSTRACT: Forumclínic: the shaping of virtual communities to assist patients with chronic diseases.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) provide new opportunities to complement traditional care while enhancing patient autonomy. With the objective to supplement patient care, a group of health professionals at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona created Forumclínic, an online networking website in Spanish and Catalan. In 2008, seven web- and DVD-based chronic disease portals (Diabetes, Schizophrenia, Cardiac Ischemia, COPD, Depression, Breast Cancer and cardiovascular risk) were created with the following resources: multimedia patient education material; physician-specialist transcribed research (articles) news; an open question forum (for clinician-user and user-to-user interaction); and patient and specialist interview videos on the progress of disease, common diagnosis and treatment procedures; and information on the best or worst prognoses. Using data from Google Analytics, server logs were used to observe online behaviour patterns and user postings. This data combined with a mixed methods approach were used to evaluate the development of a virtual community (VC). A virtual community was developed when the number of forum visits was greater than those in the disease portal (definition). While nearly half of the visitors were from the Americas, the Schizophrenia, Breast Cancer, Depression and COPD forums met the criteria for and developed a virtual community. However, the Diabetes and Cardiac Ischemia forums did not reach VC status. It is also interesting to note that users in their late thirties and early forties were primarily women. The development of four virtual communities in Forumclínic seems to support the self-care needs of virtual patients. Users also reported appreciating the increased interaction with experts online and commonly collaborated with the forum moderator to guide and support other users with similar conditions in managing their health. Thence, we believe that Forumclínic is a good model to complement traditional patient care. A formal evaluation of this adjuvant form of care, from both the users’ and moderators’ perspective, is currently in its final stages.