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It’s not surprising anymore to know that Facebook tracks users’ friendships, lifestyle choices, interests and relationships. But lately, Reuters reported that the wide-spread social network is looking forward to entering the world of healthcare.

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Three people familiar with the matter were reported saying that Facebook is going in the same direction of Silicon Valley technology companies like Apple and Google. They revealed that the Menlo Park based social network is scheming its first plans to create online “support communities” and applications that would link sufferers of various diseases with each other.

Quoting the 3 people, who requested anonymity, according to Reuters:

“Facebook is setting up a research and development unit to test a new health app for support communities … and new preventative care applications that would help people improve their lifestyles.”

According to the sources, Facebook’s special team have been holding meetings with medical industry experts in recent months in order to start developing new health apps. However, the idea is still in development.

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What’s In It For Facebook?

The expected apps could contain features such as fitness and calorie trackers, like MyFitness Pal. For Facebook the new direction could help to bring even more users to the site, with the hopes of making social networks even more information rich by becoming a place of support for those looking to make changes to their health.

Facebook experts are looking forward to using the potential healthcare  related apps as a tool to increase engagement with the site.

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has shown interest in health related issues. Facebook’s geodata was used in a Boston Children’s Hospital study to analyze obesity in various communities last year.

The PLOS One Journal published the study, revealing that users may have “liked” activities such as running or biking in the cities or neighborhoods that have a higher percentage of people listed as “healthy.” They also found that those with higher rates of obesity were users with television-related interests.

The study team said:

Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level, this kind of social network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behavior change, and assess the success of those campaigns.”

Facebook introduced what they called the “organ-donor status initiative” in 2012, by giving profile pages the option to allow users to specify their organ donor-status. The new change was considered a major success after more than 13,000 members registered to be organ donors online in the United States alone.

Where Do The Competitors Stand?

Facebook certainly isn’t the first major unrelated corporation to enter the health field as both Apple and Samsung have already gotten themselves heavily involved in the area.

Apple has released the HealthKit app for iPad and iPhone. The app collects health and fitness data gathered by third-party applications and displays it in one convenient place.

Samsung designed Gear Fit Wearable & the S Health 3.0 Platform which is supposed to supply users with an integrated and more comprehensive view of their well being. When paired with devices such as the Gear Fit, the users health data is easily tracked via sensors, with the data being examined before it is displayed on the users screen. This information can also be sent to developers if the user agrees.

Is This An Invasion Of Privacy?

In theory this new realm sounds like a well intended idea, but some users have already raised questions in regards to privacy and how medical information will be protected online. Facebook has already responded saying that it has a few ideas to alleviate privacy concerns around its health initiatives.

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Frank Williams, the chief executive of Evolent Health, a company that provides software and services to doctors and health systems, said:

“I could see Facebook doing well with applications for lifestyle and wellness, but really sick patients with conditions like cancer aren’t fooling around,

People would need anonymity and an assurance that their data and comments wouldn’t be shared with their online contacts, advertisers, or pharmaceutical companies.”

It is worth noting that there is no universal information privacy law in the United States. Even the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is only a disclosure regulation law for patients, so it’s still unclear whether Facebook will manage or help in sharing the information shared in its network.

What are your thoughts about Facebook potentially getting involved in healthcare? Would you use it? Do you trust it? Share your thoughts and opinions via the comment section below!

Sources:

1. Exclusive: Facebook plots first steps into healthcare

2. Facebook seeks entry into health care


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