This thesis discusses virtual communities and social networks and their current and potential uses in health and medicine, proposing a novel virtual health network called a "Medically Informative and Socially Supportive Interactive Online Network" (MISSION). The purposes of a MISSION are to (1) serve as an information resource for patients, (2) to facilitate conversation between patient and provider, (3) to potentially aid in office tasks (such as scheduling, billing, etc.), and (4) to aid in community-building acts in patients' own local, physical communities. In this thesis, the concept of virtual communities and social networks are explored, the legal and ethical ramifications of a MISSION are surveyed, current applications similar to a MISSION are analyzed, and recommendations for designing a MISSION are offered. This thesis is intended for an audience of health care communication and information systems professionals who can help put a MISSION into action through working with health care providers and organizations.