Facebook has already mastered the world of social media by creating services that make it easier than ever to connect with friends and family. But, will those same services translate to the healthcare industry? Facebook thinks so. That's why the company is planning new apps and tools to help you stay healthy and find solutions when you're sick.
Anonymous sources from the company confirmed it is looking into new healthcare solutions. The company is interested in creating support communities for those suffering health issues. It's also exploring making healthcare apps. Facebook has been interested in healthcare for a while now, but only recently saw that its users might be agreeable as well.
Separately, Facebook product teams noticed that people with chronic ailments such as diabetes search the social networking site for advice, said one former Facebook insider. In addition, the proliferation of patient networks, such as PatientsLikeMe, demonstrate that people are increasingly comfortable sharing symptoms and treatment experiences online.
But don't expect these services to pop up in your news feed any time soon. Facebook is still developing ideas and figuring out exactly how it will present these new apps. One major issue the company will have to tackle is user privacy. Privacy and security is hugely important in healthcare and Facebook has a checkered past in those areas.
If Facebook wants its healthcare tools to be successful, it's going to have to overcome user privacy concerns. The social network makes most of its money from advertisers, so users might be concerned about how their private stories and healthcare issues are stored and shared.
Any advertising built around the health initiatives would not be as targeted as it could be on television or other media. Pharmaceutical companies, for instance, are prohibited from using Facebook to promote the sale of prescription drugs, in part because of concerns surrounding disclosures.
There could also be concerns about how your health issues and questions are shared with others on Facebook. When dealing with an illness, many people would like to share the news with their friends and family on their own terms. No one wants others finding out simply because you were searching for help in a support group.
One way Facebook could overcome the concerns is through rebranding.
The company is considering rolling out its first health application quietly and under a different name, a source said. Market research commissioned by Facebook found that many of its users were unaware that photo-service Instagram is Facebook-owned, the source said.