June 27, 2012

Bowling Alone, Healing Together

The American Journal of Managed Care recently published a commentary I co-wrote with Sachin Jain, Riya Goyal, and William Shrank: “Bowling Alone, Healing Together: The Role of Social Capital in Delivery Reform.” An excerpt:

…Physicians and the organizations in which they work may want to actively consider how they connect willing patients with one another—as supporters, teachers, and advocates for one another. Patient-centered medical homes may include patients and family members as integral members of care teams. The medical practice could become both a center for individualized care and a source for disease group management.

…Online communities focused on specific conditions have been shown to offer rich, supportive environments where patients and their caregivers share personal stories, provide emotional support, and offer advice about up-to-date clinical care. In new care delivery models that integrate online communications into their work flow, clinicians may engage patients with common conditions within their practice to help manage one another’s conditions. Moreover, they may use linkages to other practices and clinicians to seek help for patients with more rare conditions. In these ways, the clinical practice might expand its walls to be available to help patients find support at any time of the day.

…As the burden of chronic disease grows and our resources to manage healthcare problems diminish, healthcare providers, health systems, and commercial and government payers would be wise to consider the role of creating greater social capital as a means of improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare. Perhaps a variety of metaphorical “patient bowling leagues” will have their place in the healthcare delivery system of the future.

I riffed off these themes at last year’s Medicine 2.0 conference, weaving together Pew Internet’s research on social networking sites and our lives with our extensive health research. As I said then, “We are all connected. We are all building social capital. You just can’t see it if you’re not looking. And many people in our health care systems are not looking.”

Here’s to inspiring a few people to start looking. That’s why I wanted to work on an academic journal publication and that’s why I will continue to blog, speak, and publish research — to shine a light on the social impact of the internet.