Balancing sociability and usability in online patient communities [5/5]

In my first blogpost, I described the 5 building blocks of successful online patient communities, i.e. diversity vs similarity, extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, privacy vs trust, moderation vs control, and sociability vs usability. Today we will zoom in on the trade-off between sociability (i.e. offering several tools to connect patients) and usability (i.e. keeping the platform easy to use and reliable).
Sociability revolves around human-human interaction and might be defined as the way in which online patient communities may support members’ social interaction for the attainment of shared purposes. In order to foster interaction, online patient communities provide diverse tools helping patients to connect. For example: via personal messages, forums, collaborative tagging, comments on profiles, the exchange of pictures, etc.
Usability, then, involves human-technology interaction and might be defined as the capability of a technical system to be used easily and effectively by individuals to fulfill their tasks. Thereby ease of use and system reliability are the main building blocks for creating usable patient communities. Hence patients should feel free of effort to use the community, which is a stable and robust system that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In practice, sociability and usability are connected. Consider, for example, a decision about whether community members should register to join a community. This is a social decision that affects social interaction in the community. The policy will influence who joins the community, how easy it is to get into the community, what information is requested from registrants and how providing that information impacts their concerns about privacy and security. The ambiance of the community may also be affected. For example, flaming may be eliminated by the burden of completing a registration form, but this same procedure may also stop some other people from joining the community.
Our Patient Consulting Boards use several creative techniques to foster patient interaction and to reach the desired purpose. For example, in an idea-storm patients can share their ideas with each other, discuss them, but also vote for the idea that they like the most. Each Patient Consulting Board is mobile friendly, allowing patients to contribute at any time and at any place they want to.
Source: Sarah Van Oerle (2016) “Value co-creation in online health communities: the role of participants’ posts, network position and behavioural patterns

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