A virtual community is an electronically supported social network: it can be seen as a group of people who have regular social interaction, independent of time and space, because of a common interest such as a problem, task, or feeling exchange (Eysenbach, Powell, Englesakis, Rizo, & Stern, 2004; Rheingold, 1993). When independence of time and space is achieved through the use of mobile devices and wireless communication technologies, such a virtual community is called a Mobile Virtual Community (MVC). Existing research interests in the MVC domain are grouped into technology-centered interest, user- centered interest and business-centered interest (El Morr & Kawash, 2007). The technology-centered aspects include issues such as platform design, development framework, mobile network bandwidth limits and intelligent agents. The user-centered issues include user interface, behavior, personalization, privacy, data security and trust. Business-centered aspects include marketing, investment and business models.
In another paradigm known as telemedicine, information and communication technologies are being investigated and employed in applications such as health discussion & maintenance, alleviation, cure and prevention of diseases. In recent telemedicine scenarios, sensors attached to the patient’s body collect patient’s vital signs, transmit them to a mobile gateway device being carried by the patient, which in turn uses wireless communication technologies to transmit the data to a healthcare center, for purposes like vital signs analysis and offering emergency assistance to the patient if needed. The sensors and the gateway mobile device together form a so called Body Area Network (BAN). Konstantas, van Halteren, & Bults (2004) describe such a BAN for telemedicine purposes. Other supporting actors involved in such a scenario are the technicians, healthcare specialists, doctors and (informal) caregivers.
According to the definition, the telemedicine scenario may be viewed as a virtual community if the patient and other actors could communicate with each other for the purpose of providing medical assistance and counseling to the patient. In situations where patient and caregiver mobility exists, this virtual community, may be said to correspond to a MVC. Such a MVC is an aggregated kind of community as defined in Demiris 2006, where communities of healthcare professionals only, patients/informal caregivers only, combinations of them, and general public communities are defined. The technical system that supports the realization of MVC is referred to as MVC platform (Van Beijnum, Pawar, Dulawan, & Hermens, 2009).Considering the architecture of the MVC platform, it can be argued that the MVC potentially evolves around a set of services based on the principles of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) (Papazoglou, 2003; Pawar, Subercaze, Maret, Van Beijnum, & Konstantas, 2008). Based on the findings of Broens et al., (2007) and Maloney-Krichmar and Preece, (2005) we argue that to be a viable MVC, it should have a tailored focus and robust technical platform: it should be of clear interest to the users and the technology incorporated should be reliable. This chapter contributes to this area in general and mobile patient monitoring and treatment in particular, by 1) analyzing in detail the robustness and other requirements to be fulfilled by the technical platform for MVCs, 2) providing guidelines for MVC platform development based on service orientation, and 3) discussing the actors, front-end views and service components involved.