Balance, Interference, and Complementation: Three Essays on Online Healthcare Platforms


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date17 Dec 2021


Online healthcare is a field closely intertwined with our personal lives, involving three main groups: physicians, patients, and platforms. The development of the healthcare industry is inseparable from the effects of government regulation, and online healthcare is no exception. This thesis explores the interactions of three groups in the context of online healthcare, both within and between groups, and includes both online and multi-channel effects. The thesis consists of three essays examining ways to benefit physicians, patients, and platforms, and focuses on three different effects of online healthcare: balance, interference, and complementation.

The first essay, "Demand Balancing by Government Endorsement", evaluates the effect of government endorsement on online healthcare platforms (OHPs) and examines how its two channels, utility and trust, changes patients' choices. Furthermore, we study the government's role from a more macro perspective, and find that government endorsement can benefit the platform, the physicians, and the patients: (1) It increases the platform's online healthcare consultation; (2) Its effect is more significant for hospitals and junior healthcare providers who are not yet well established due to increased trust, therefore helping balance the online workload of physicians; (3) Patient satisfaction is increased after government endorsement. This essay highlights the load balancing between physicians and hospitals achieved through government endorsement, providing significant implications for researchers and practitioners.

The second essay, "Adverse Effects of Support Interference," investigates a different mechanism by which the content of online healthcare communities (OHCs) may affect patient mood. We study from the perspective of patients using an online healthcare community dataset on depression patients. We find that even though support seekers benefit from emotional support, off-target emotional support negatively impacts their moods. We also explore the possibilities of altering the intervention volume, length, and frequency to mitigate the negative effects. This finding is novel and suggests that we should carefully manage OHC-based interventions. Through our novel deep learning model, we find that differentiating between emotional support and auxiliary content is critical for identifying this negative effect.

The third essay, "Complementation with Offline Channel", examines the multi-channel effects of online healthcare platforms on the offline demand of hospitals. Our study reveals that the online sharing behavior of physicians can increase their offline demand through organization-related knowledge sharing articles and decrease their offline demand through others-related articles. We also find that organization-related social articles decrease the offline demand for physicians but increase the demand for junior physicians in the same department. These phenomena, which can be explained by the social identity theory, significantly impact healthcare platform operations.

This thesis contributes to the literature and practice in several ways. First, this thesis explores the mechanism of OHPs/OHCs and contains some novel findings. For example, it finds the negative effect of depression patients' prosocial behavior in OHCs due to bystanders. Missing such off-targeted information will lead to a misunderstanding of the mechanisms of OHCs. The findings in this thesis shed light on the use of OHCs to enhance patients' mental health conditions and suggest potential OHC-based intervention strategies. Second, this thesis explores the role of an essential and rarely mentioned group, the government. It studies the role of government endorsement during the development of OHPs from a new perspective. Results show that government endorsement may address the long-standing issues of long patient waiting times and increasingly exacerbated load imbalances even with OHPs, indicating that governments should contribute more to the development of online healthcare. Third, this thesis examines multi-channel effects, which is rarely mentioned in previous studies. Since the major workload in the healthcare domain is still in the offline channel, this thesis explores the effect of online activities and the role of online platforms on offline hospitals. The results of this thesis can give suggestions for physicians participating in OHP activities.

    Research areas

  • Online Healthcare Platform, Online Healthcare Community, Text Classification, Government Endorsement, Multi-channel Effect