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The Underestimated Power of Online Relationships and the Implications for Population Health Management

Posted Oct 22 2012 7:48pm
Health care in a box?
Maci's very upset.  Dopey Kyle, who otherwise seems like a nice guy, has been hot-chatting it up with online girlfriends.  Good thing pop psychologist Dr. Drew can come to the emotional rescue on MTV's "Teen Mom."

The Disease Management Care Blog's response?  Mute and quickly change the channel before the DMCB spouse has one more reason to doubt the intelligence of the male species.

Yet, only the perspicacious DMCB can use this sordid tale to extract an important lesson for the population health management (PHM) community.

That's because it listened carefully to  TedMed's Jay Walker, who spoke at the closing plenary session at the Care Continuum Alliance's Forum12 .  Mr. Walker observed that handheld devices with texting are blurring the lines that separate in-person and virtual relationships.  While 3-D, face-to-face "analog" interactions still count, people are also going online to achieve an astonishing level of digital familiarity and even intimacy with each other.

While regular readers already know that persons turn to trusted in-person as well as virtual "friends" and "communities" for health care advice (past DMCB posts on the topic are  here and here ), the DMCB may have underestimated the full implications of just how real and behavior-changing an on-line relationship can be.  

No, the DMCB is not suggesting that PHM vendors start hot chatting with clients. 

But it is saying that vendors as well as buyers who discount "remote" web-enabled and text coaching versus in-person services may need to take another look at their future business plans and underlying value propositions. Maci and Kyle's dysfunction are teaching us that remote texting has far more "connectedness" potential than generally appreciated. If a social-media-based relationship's downsides can capture Maci and Kyle's attention, why can't the upsides also be harnessed to change behavior?

We have a lot more to learn about the determinants of on-line relationship building.  Companies that figure it out will win.

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