How do health professionals use online communities to engage with their peers?

Rowena Forsyth, Krestina Amon, Brad Ridout, Andrew J. Campbell

Background: Online communities have emerged as popular technologies for connecting individuals in health. Research on these communities to date has centred on how these digital health tools support patient to patient peer interactions and professional-patient interactions. Our research instead focuses on how health professionals use online communities (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp) to engage with their peers.

Aims: To investigate how health professionals use online communities for peer education, information exchange, support, and social connection across different online platforms.

Methods: Our study included an international sample of health professionals from medical, nursing, and allied health disciplines including physiotherapy, psychology, speech pathology, and podiatry. Participants completed an online survey that included demographics, engagement and participation in online communities, and instruments including the Social Media in Healthcare Scale and the Physician Well-Being Index. The qualitative interviews centred on experiences, identities and roles in online community participation.

Results: Our participants detailed numerous aspects of their online community participation. This included reports of their use of multiple platforms and distinguishing different ways of presenting themselves and engaging with each platform. Participants described benefits of online community participation as allowing them to communicate with leaders in their fields and developing collaborations that they would otherwise not have access to.

Conclusions: Our initial findings indicate that health professionals use a variety of social media technologies to engage with their peers. They find these technologies to be useful for forming and maintaining peer networks and keeping up with current research in their disciplines.