Empowered patients and what we can learn from open innovation communities. A Scoping Review

Julia Amann julia.amann@paraplegie.ch
Claudia Zanini claudia.zanini@paraplegie.ch
Sara Rubinelli sara.rubinelli@paraplegie.ch


Patient empowerment has become a central focus in healthcare research and practice. Instead of viewing patients as passive recipients of expert advice, empowered patients are becoming active partners in the health management process. Enabled by web 2.0 technologies, patients seek information and share their personal experiences online with peers and healthcare professionals. This paper argues that these shared experiences are invaluable resources for healthcare institutions, but are currently not being fully harnessed. Only little research in healthcare has focused on the patient as a source of innovation. In contrast, marketing and management scholars have long started to explore the potential of online platforms as innovation hubs. From the literature on open innovation communities (OICs), we know that an increasing number of firms uses online platforms to solicit customers’ needs and their innovative ideas. In this context, researchers speak of a customer-centric approach where the empowered consumer is actively involved in new product and service development. By providing a comprehensive overview of the open and user innovation literature, this study seeks to highlight the lessons learned from OICs and discusses their implications for healthcare.

A scoping review was conducted. A total of seven databases were searched for articles published in English between 1995
and 2014. Upon de-duplication the search strategy was refined through an iterative process comprised of three levels of relevance screening leading to the inclusion of 196 studies. Two coders were involved in the screening. Inter-coder reliability yielded 90% correspondence.

Based on the findings of the scoping review, a preliminary framework for OICs in healthcare was developed. In the context of healthcare, reciprocity as well as transparency and trust are foundational elements. As shown in the review, buy-in from all parties involved is crucial to establish and maintain a platform for exchange. An extensive list of motivational factors was generated, whereby the findings suggest that user motivations are context dependent. In the case of an OIC in healthcare, however, motivations are also thought to be stakeholder-dependent. In this sense, a patient may have different reasons for revealing his thoughts and ideas than a healthcare professional or researcher. On the one hand, some patients may, for example, not feel comfortable sharing their experiences due to privacy concerns. For researchers and healthcare professionals time constraints or questions of liability may play a role. But insights cannot only be gained from actual contributions but also from simply observing the community behavior in regard to which posts are the most read or highest rated, for example. Methods for harnessing these digital traces have previously been employed particularly in marketing research and research on open source software communities. 

The present study outlines the lessons learned drawn from different fields, highlighting key aspects of 1) the initiation of an OIC, 2) idea generation, 3) idea selection process, as well as 4) observed outcomes. The central claim of this paper is that a give-and-take approach can not only help market giants to gain competitive edge, but can also help healthcare institutions to inform service provision.

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