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How Online Communities Can Improve Providers' Performance


Networking with colleagues increased access to credible best practice knowledge.


Healthcare providers and organizations can leverage low-cost social media technologies to improve interprofessional and interorganizational networks, according to a qualitative study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Networking with colleagues from other healthcare facilities allowed providers to use up-to-date clinical practices, researchers found. A closed specialty-specific virtual community helped create a heterogeneous network for providers to have the resources they need to perform better.

“The key finding was that by being a member of a broader community, (the providers) had access to credible best practice knowledge,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers explored why healthcare professionals belong to an exemplar virtual community, ICUConnect, which aims to improve the outcomes of critically ill patients by facilitating the distribution of knowledge across the intensive care community.

Specifically, the research team wanted to:

  • Understand why members join a virtual community and remain a member
  • Identify the purpose the virtual community serves in their professional lives
  • Identify how a member uses the virtual community
  • Identify how members used the knowledge and resources shared on the virtual community

In total, the study consisted of 27 participants, of which, seven posted frequently, 13 low posters and seven non-posters. Participants had significant experience as healthcare providers and intensive care clinicians. Frequent posters had the most experience.

Interviews were held with participants to gauge their experiences with ICUConnect.

Participants found the information posted on ICUConnect credible because it was extensive, and the virtual community was moderated and sponsored by a government agency. Members then could benchmark and improve their practices and stay up to date.

What’s more, participants found ICUConnect to be the best social media platform, rather than ResearchGate, Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.

The researchers found that participants were members of ICUConnect because they had better access to credible best practice knowledge by being part of a broader community of intensive care professionals. The culture of the community was characterized by informative discussions, collegiality and a constructive atmosphere.

“Importantly, it appeared that ICUConnect, as a closed specialty-specific (virtual community), established a broad heterogeneous social (professional) network to overcome the current ineffective networks that adversely impact on knowledge exchange and creation in contemporary local practice settings,” the authors concluded.

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