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Fearless Idea 2: Bridge the Health Care Divide

Mar 02, 2017
World Class Faculty & Research

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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Consumers via online communities are sharing information and connecting with each other at unprecedented levels. But to what extent can this phenomenon affect healthcare? A recent study led by Ritu Agarwal at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business identifies two advantages of online communities toward closing the rural-urban gap in access to quality healthcare.

First, platforms from Facebook to Internet message boards provide opportunities for rural patients to ask questions and receive feedback from qualified experts and from urban counterparts who have better access to sophisticated medical resources. These urban patients can give added insight to the nature of a given disease and treatment options that might be more readily available in better-serviced settings. Second, online communities can provide emotional support without travel to in-person groups.

The researchers’ 44-month observation of an online community centered on a rare disease showed that rural users were sent more social support than urban users. "We truly believe that these communities can empower patients and build their own capabilities to manage their disease," Agarwal says. "It's not simply a matter of giving people treatment or access to healthcare, you want to enhance their own capability to manage their disease. For people who have these unique situations, sometimes the Internet is the only way to reach out widely to determine who else might be suffering. The power of being able to connect with others like yourself is enormous.”

Ultimately, policymakers should take a closer look at online health communities, as they offer an inexpensive way of increasing access to health knowledge, Agarwal says.

Read more: The Creation of Social Value: Can an Online Health Community Reduce Rural-Urban Health Disparities? by Agarwal, Smith professor Guodong "Gordon" Gao, and former Smith doctoral student Jie Mein Goh, now at Canada's Simon Fraser University, is published by MIS Quarterly in 2016.

Ritu Agarwal is the Robert H. Smith Dean's Chair of Information Systems and Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research.  She is the founder and co-director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems.

Research interests: The use of information technology in healthcare settings, health analytics, technology-enabled strategic transformations in various industrial sectors, and consumer behavior in technology-mediated settings.

Selected accomplishments: Selected in 2013 as Distinguished Fellow for the Information Systems Society, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences; winner in 2013 and 2004 of UMD’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Krowe Teaching Award for Excellence; and winner in 2011-2012 of a UMD Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award.  Editor-in-Chief of Information Systems Research from 2011-2016.

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2017 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, culminating with the sixth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 30, 2017.

Other fearless ideas from: Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  |  Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Rachelle Sampson  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  Cynthia Kay Stevens  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang  |  PhD Candidates

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.