The Social and Economic Value of Online Healthcare Communities

Mr Luo Kai
Dr Teo Hock Hai, Provost'S Chair Professor, School of Computing

  18 Sep 2019 Wednesday, 02:00 PM to 03:30 PM

 Executive Classroom, COM2-04-02


The intersection of healthcare and the Internet, best exemplified by online healthcare communities (OHCs), provides enormous potentials for transforming health service and improving healthcare outcomes. Ranging from peer-to-peer patient communities to more general communities that connect patients and healthcare professionals around general health questions, they are gaining traction nowadays. There are, undeniably, significant interests in understanding the unique value generated by OHCs. To the extent that online healthcare communities are value-creating, past studies have predominately focused on investigating the economic and social value of many peer-to-peer patient communities. While these peer-to-peer patient communities are doubtless popular and important, there are inherently more dynamic and complex user interactions on the emerging OHCs that consist of both the patients and physicians. Although those communities might offer broader economic and social impacts, they remain under-studied in the literature. Situated in the context of a patient-physician online healthcare community, this dissertation attempts to close this current knowledge gap by conducting two novel empirical studies.

In my first study, I investigate the unique economic value generated by a patient-physician online healthcare community in term of improving healthcare efficiency. More specifically, drawing on theory of physician agency, I examine the potential influence of OHCs on the efficiency of physician service. To achieve the research objective, I utilize two unique datasets from an online healthcare community and a general offline hospital. Combining rigorous econometric and state-of-the-art content analysis, I find that patient-physician communication on the online healthcare community leads to decreased inpatient length of stay as well as medicine expenses. I also highlight a mechanism of improving the efficiency of physician service as a result of information asymmetry reduction to the patients. Findings of this study help provide initial empirical evidences in facilitating the theorizing of how an online healthcare community influences healthcare efficiency. They also offer useful implications for healthcare practitioners and policy makers.

The second study aims to shed light on the unique aspect of social value generated by patient-physician online healthcare community in term of influencing physician altruism. Lying at the core of modern medical professionalism, physician altruism is also a critical component in the theoretical health economics study. There is considerable interest in understanding the impacts of contemporary healthcare technology on physician altruism. However, the dynamics of this impact are rarely captured in the existing literature. In this study, I seek to investigate the dynamic influence of an online healthcare community (OHC) on physician altruism. More specifically, I focus on the dynamic influence of various motivating mechanisms of the OHC that give participating physicians either social and economic returns. I characterize this dynamism using a Hidden Markov Model (HMM) that allows the effects of motivating mechanisms to change across individuals and over time. The results paint a dynamic picture of physician altruism in the modern online environment. The findings are also essential to understanding the nature of physician altruism and the mechanism through which it can be influenced. Implications for the community owners and policy makers are also discussed.