01 May, 2018

The Facebook Future of Healthcare

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Facebook has turned into a world for every type of folk – the advice seeker, the picture poster, the politically angry, the product seller, the promoter, and now, the healthcare targeter.

Led by the sixth richest person in the world, Facebook is in talks to add a healthcare element to their platform. They started speaking with hospitals about a year ago to match anonymous Facebook profiles with health data in hopes of improving medical care. They’ve recently had to put this new project on hold (likely because of their recent news with Cambridge Analytica) but we should keep our eyes peeled for this in the future. 

How It Works

If this project comes to fruition, hospitals would share anonymous medical information like age, health issues and any other health related data. This information would match up with Facebook accounts that could potentially link these same people. Somehow (unknown at the moment), Facebook would take user behavior and give advice about medical treatments. CNBC gave us an example of this – If Facebook sees that an elderly user does not have many local friend connections, a hospital might want to send a nurse over to check in with that user after recovering from a surgery.

“…the focus would be on producing general insights that would help medical professionals take social connectedness into account as they develop treatment or intervention programs for their patients.” Jacob Kastrenakes

Talk about an invasion of privacy. Well-known organizations like Stanford Medicine and American College of Cardiology were both in early talks with Facebook but this is still in the very beginning stages to make sure privacy is ensured.

Another potential way Facebook may have an in with healthcare is through ads. Facebook’s business model is based off advertising. They sell access to user’s information for targeted ads. They will likely use this strategy in the healthcare realm and sell to providers and insurers.

“Just like any other business, in healthcare you still need to acquire customers and have relationships with those customers in the digital space. That’s the value proposition.” Paul Clark

For example, a hospital could buy data from Facebook to get further information on users who are looking for fertility services. Hospitals get new patients, Facebook gets new advertisers, everybody is happy.

What Now?

Facebook has put this project on hold, especially after their latest scandal. But let’s cross our fingers that people will be more aware of their own privacy. Cathleen Gates, interim CEO of the American College of Cardiology, explained the possible benefits of the project.

“For the first time in history, people are sharing information about themselves online in ways that may help determine how to improve their health. As part of its mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health, the American College of Cardiology has been engaged in discussions with Facebook around the use of anonymized Facebook data, coupled with anonymized ACC data, to further scientific research on the ways social media can aid in the prevention and treatment of heart disease—the #1 cause of death in the world. This partnership is in the very early phases as we work on both sides to ensure privacy, transparency and scientific rigor. No data has been shared between any parties.” Cathleen Gates

These are very tentative steps. Facebook did launch a “health team” in New York which is currently speaking with pharmaceutical companies to invest in their ad budget, which will target users who follow certain health pages. Will this be the future of healthcare?

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