Our research focused on identifying and distilling the experiences of people on the ground and pioneering in the field of online health communities, mainly in the UK: Who are they? What defines their work? What obstacles have they encountered? How have they developed solutions? From this discovery process, we synthesised our findings into six Barriers that constrain efficiency and effectiveness in the field, and four Design Principles that can successfully overcome those Barriers.
We explored these solutions and made observations about where new energies and resources could be directed. In so doing we identified and developed the following four Opportunity areas – some realistic, some shoot-for-the-stars – that could help to advance the field. All of them will require further research to customise and fully develop.
As such these four threads braid together to provide a useful way to think about the future of online health communities. In the next four sections, we explore each of these three key aspects, illuminated by our research, as key elements of the puzzle we are faced with when working to develop vibrant and successful online health communities.
The Opportunities identified by this research are: