You might have seen an exclusive from Reuters on Friday, suggesting that Facebook is making some significant moves to embrace the massive opportunities of the healthcare market. Following the likes of Apple and Google, it was only a matter of time before Facebook put a more concrete effort behind the data it already captures on user’s health interests. While it’s very preliminary—Facebook itself hasn’t officially confirmed the story—it signals an emerging development of consequence to the entire healthcare industry and the consumers it serves.
According to the report and Reuters’ three anonymous sources, Facebook is plotting its first steps into healthcare. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to those of us in the industry, of course, but this is the first indication of actual plans. It appears they’re exploring online “support communities” that would connect Facebook users with similar health concerns, i.e. various chronic conditions, as well as new “preventative care” applications that would focus on improving lifestyles. Could Facebook be thinking of behavior change models? They have reportedly been tapping medical industry experts and entrepreneurs during this stage and are setting up an R&D unit to test new health apps. Based on some of the potential plans and the resulting speculation, it sounds like they may be thinking mobile-first for this latest endeavor.
What about privacy?
This news is certain to spark a privacy debate, something Facebook is all too familiar with, but which will take on a whole new dimension in the sensitive and regulated environment of consumer health. Many will wonder if Facebook’s systems are set up to handle the rigors of protecting private health information, and whether its leadership is prepared to put the necessary priority on that requirement.
And speaking of PHI, has Facebook tapped any patients for expertise and input during this initial exploration? We certainly hope so, because there’s a lot to be learned from that population too. In the meantime, we’re excited that Facebook is investing its time and money into figuring it out.
This is definitely something to put on your watch list, as clearly more light is yet to be shed here. We encourage you to read the full article and share your initial reactions. We’ll be watching for developments on this, of course, and will share them here as they come.
So, what do you think the implications are for the healthcare industry? For consumers? Are you confident Facebook will get it right from a privacy perspective?