Building Community Through Online Health Groups


Here's a transcript of the video! 

I want to talk with you about the power and beauty of using groups to support your practice and other endeavors you have. I use online groups all the time to support my patients and also to support online programs that I have. I simply use Facebook as the venue. It's free. It's easy to welcome people into them. People can freely join if it’s a public group, or you can make it private, so they have to ask to join, and then you simply let them in. Private groups are great for paid groups, things that you want to keep confidential, or places for your patients to just share. And they're really incredible for keeping contact going in between visits.

If you're working with patients, they're a great way to support people between appointments, and an incredible way  to support individuals doing groups together, and for group members to support each other.

The power of group medicine and the power of groups to leverage support for each other is really well-documented. Everything from centering pregnancy groups to group medical practice has really demonstrated to have enhanced outcomes for the individuals involved in the group. They also make your work much easier because you're saying one thing to many people, instead of saying that same thing over and over and over and over again to individual patients or individual people in a group. And what folks bring to each other when they're in a group is really incredibly powerful and also informative.

For example, if you don't have diabetes, but you're running an online diabetes group with your patients in your practice who diabetes, they're going to ask each other questions, and they're going to ask you questions and they're going to provide answers to each other that are above and beyond what they might ask you one on one – or what you might even think to answer one-on-one. That can be incredibly transformative. Also when people are doing things together, they tend to have more of a sense of witness and accountability. And so they're more likely to actually follow through.

So how do you use a group?

Pick a platform – like Facebook – and create a separate page just for that. I usually do my groups invitation only, but I do have some public groups that you can also go to, even my main Facebook page functions as a public group.

Decide what the frequency of posting and engagement is going to be. So for example, in some of my online courses or with patient groups, I will post once a week. And that helps to create engagement. I may ask them a question, I may share a tidbit of information, etc. And that post lasts for the whole week. And then in the meantime, the students or patients are engaging with each other, so once a week I will go in there and answer comments (however, you can always have someone who's in your practice, in your program, or on your team go in and answer those comments instead – could be a health coach, a nutritionist, a licensed practitioner, etc.). Pick the frequency that is going to allow you to be consistent, but not overwhelmed.

Keep it realistic so you can deliver: If you offer more than you can deliver and can't deliver it, people will be disappointed and lose trust and confidence. If you offer less and then deliver more, they all think that they've won the lottery, which is an amazing thing. Now, when it comes to having someone else on your Facebook page or your other group platform moderating for you, or even when it comes to you moderating, unless those people are your patients, keep in mind that everything that you say can be construed as giving guidance or  medical advice if you're not really careful about that. So just like on social media, you want to think of those groups as a social media platform in terms of how you're communicating. And even if you're doing a closed patient group, you want to remember if a patient asks you a question, you can answer it, but you still can't divulge any of their private information or talk about something else about them.

You can only answer the question they're giving. And I still, even with patient groups, don't answer medical questions on that page directly for that patient. If it's a direct medical question, I still want to answer it in the context of a patient consultation. So what I'm answering is questions about what we're discussing in the group, and it’s okay if I make it personal for them, but I don't want to give them medical advice without hearing the full story.

Use multimedia: There are many, many options that you can use for creating a very robust and interesting and engaging online platform for groups. I use videos. I usually go on with most of my groups once a week it's a short term group, like a three month group. Or once a month, or even every three months, depending on what groups I'm offering. So some of my professional training programs I go on once every two weeks, one of them once a month, it varies.

Add value with Zoom: You can also use zoom as a platform for your Facebook group (assuming you use Facebook). Zoom allows you to go on facebook, and you can even use the group live on zoom, where people can see each other if they want to be seen and talk. This can all be synchronized, through zoom, to play on your Facebook page, so it stays as a stored event on your Facebook page. You can do prompts where you ask a question and get people's answers. You can share recipes, you can share tidbits. There's so many ways to create engagement and always remember to use the comments that people give you to mine data for what you're going to create next.

So let's say this week, you create a post on an anti-inflammatory diet and six people come in and ask, well, what about turmeric? Well then next week you might think about making your posts about turmeric and/or specific anti-inflammatory herbs. So your group really gives you direct feedback. It's like having a data mining group that you can use right there.

So big points to summarize:

  • Group power is incredible. And can exponentially enhance your practice,
  • Choose your platform. I use Facebook for my groups, and then I use zoom for meetings
  • Pick your frequency. Make sure you can keep it sustainable, but also consistent and – ideally – the same time and day of each week, because then your followers can know when to find you and where, and that makes it really easy for them.
  • Use a moderator if you need to, or tune in yourself, but make sure that you're not giving medical advice
  • Use a lot of different ways to communicate: videos, recipes, live events through Facebook, engagement questions, etc. And make sure to data-mine your groups for big takeaways.

It's one of the most rewarding aspects of my practice, my professional teaching. I love it. And I hope you enjoy it too.