Facebook has recently joined other major internet players in expressing an interest in health care. This is but one element of a paradigm shift that is expressing itself in a variety of unexpected ways, all over the world. From restaurants that now post calorie and other nutritional information about their menu items, to apps centered firmly on health care, to devices like pedometers and smart watches, which have been specifically called out as being especially well suited to monitoring various aspects of the wearers’ health.
How It Started For Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg has long been interested in getting his company involved in some way or another in healthcare, but competition priorities have put it on the back burner until recently. Speculation holds that his wife could have something to do with its emerging importance, given that she is a pediatric resident at University of California San Francisco, but it seems just as likely that health care and awareness has been building in importance in our collective consciousness for some time now, and it’s just getting too big and important to ignore. This would explain why so many other companies are also rushing to embrace it and extend their tentacles into it.
Facebook’s first, mostly accidental foray into the area came in the form of a 2012 project launched by the company. Called the “Organ-Donor Status Initiative,” which allowed Facebook users to declare and update their organ-donor status on their profile pages. The day the Facebook change was made, the number of people registering to become organ-donors jumped to 13,054. Prior to that, the average daily number of registrations was a paltry 616.
This demonstrated powerfully and decisively that if Facebook chose to, they could have a profound impact in the area of health and health care, and it seems that they’ve decided to embrace that more fully. Granted, as company management is quick to point out, they’re still in the earliest stages of formulating an overall strategy to create a more specific plan, so there’s nothing set in stone just yet. It seems clear, however that something’s coming, and knowing Facebook, it’s likely to be big.
So what would a Facebook health care foray look and feel like?
Well, without trying to peer too deeply into the minds of the management team, it would probably begin simply enough, and by building upon existing structures. All that to say that health care related groups might start popping up, centered around specific ailments and conditions. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that these groups would lend themselves to the creation of group-specific tools to provide support and tracking as they relate to the condition in question, and even potentially third party Facebook apps that could grow up around a support community. There’s no firm indication that this is in Facebook’s thinking, but it would also be possible to attach medical professionals to the site to offer guidance and context.
All of this sounds wonderful, but of course, there’s a catch, and it’s a rather large one. Facebook has been known to play fast and loose with the security of its users, and has even gone so far as to intentionally experiment on segments of its user base. That gives some people pause, and rightly so.
It’s too soon to say what the ultimate outcome will be, but the mere fact that the company is considering jumping into the area of healthcare is interesting, and bears watching.