How New Facebook Features Will Impact Healthcare

Facebook Changes Change Healthcare Privacy

Update, Oct. 12: if you want to see all of our posts and white papers from the series we did on the recent Facebook changes, you can visit this page.

Like many humans, you’ve probably noticed that Facebook has made some changes recently to its platform. For most people, these changes became apparent with the addition of Lists, a new News Feed structure, and the ticker. All of these changes will impact how people use Facebook and will force brands to rethink how they use the platform as well. I co-authored a point of view paper on all of these changes for my company, Possible Worldwide, and I’ll be discussing many of these over the coming days. I’ll include a link at the end of this post where you can pick up a copy of the full point of view paper. Rest assured that the paper and some upcoming posts will explain why I think brands need to completely rethink their approach to Facebook. The value of a “Like” isn’t what it used to be, so brands will need to find other ways for people to engage with them. I could go on for hours. Check out the paper or stay tuned for some upcoming posts for more details.

For today’s post, I wanted to talk about one really interesting new feature that is part of the Timeline format for profiles that Facebook has announced. If you don’t know what Timeline is, then check out this page that explains it all. I personally think this is one of the best things that Facebook has ever done with the platform. It’s a really aesthetically pleasing interface that serves as a really interesting digital scrapbook of your life. It’s got everything you’ve ever put on Facebook in an organized, time-based format and it looks great.

Timeline isn’t open to the public yet, but I’ve been using it for a couple weeks since they opened it up to developers. I’ve dug into it a lot and found out some potentially interesting things. On feature in particular stood out to me as having a potential impact on healthcare. In Timeline, all of your past posts are neatly listed in a…well…timeline format. However, there is also the option to add content to any date in the past. That is, you could add a picture from your wedding that happened long before Facebook existed. It’ll show up in the right spot right in the Timeline. In fact, Facebook gives you some ideas on what content you might consider adding in.

You probably recognize the first three icons in this new status box that resides on your Timeline page. However, the next five are new. The represent (from left to right): work and education, family and relationships, living, health and wellness, and milestones and experiences.

The image at the top of this post is what you see if you select the “Health and Wellness” icon. I find it fascinating that Facebook included this as a top level status option. The other areas are things that we routinely share on Facebook, but for most people, sharing health information anywhere (much less on Facebook) is unheard of. However, for those who have heard many of my recent presentations, you know that I’m not a fan of healthcare privacy. I argue constantly that if people gave up a little privacy it would likely make them and the rest of us a lot healthier. I won’t get into the debate here, but if you’re interested, check out this presentation below around the 16:40 mark for my entire rap on healthcare privacy (link here as well).

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What Facebook has done (intentionally or not) is started to encourage people to give up a little of their healthcare privacy by encouraging them to share health-related events in their lives. They even suggest a few to get you started (“Broke a Bone”, “Had a Surgery”, “Overcame an Illness”). However, you can put in anything you want here. One of the big reasons why people don’t share health information publicly, including Facebook, is because they don’t see others doing it. It’s not the norm. Well, sharing your location wasn’t the norm a few years ago, but people started doing it via “checkins” and now it’s pretty common among a large percentage of people. The question is whether this will extend to sharing health information.

My prediction is that it will. Not today or tomorrow, but in the near future. The tipping point will be when people start noticing some benefit for sharing this information. There really isn’t much incentive now. However, if you knew that you’d get better care by sharing this information, you probably would. There a great story about how a woman inadvertently used Facebook to save her son’s life. Basically, she posted pictures of her sick kid and several of her friends noticed that there might be something seriously wrong. She gave up some privacy and got better care. One of the pioneers in this area is Dr. George Church (a brilliant Harvard geneticist) who in 1999 (yes, 1999) put all of his medical records online with the theory that he’d get better care by doing so. You can watch a great interview with him here where he discusses this concept, but here’s his recap of what happened when he put his records online and gave up his healthcare privacy:

“Around 1999, very early on, they gave me full access to my medical records and I put all my medical records up on the internet and interestingly a hematologist contacted me and noticed from my medical records that I was overdue for a cholesterol test, having picked up a cholesterol drug, Lovastatin.  And sure enough, I tested it out and it was having no effect; it was an inadequate dose and so that resulted in getting the right dose and the right diet and may have added many quality years of life in my case.”

There’s no doubt in his mind that healthcare privacy isn’t necessarily a good thing.

There is certainly a lot that people won’t share. I frequently show the image below as a warning to pharma companies that are thinking about creating prescription drug pages on Facebook. I think it speaks for itself.

There are some things that people won’t share…at least they won’t share it today. What Facebook has done by adding a “Health and Wellness” status update is subtly encourage all of us to start sharing more about our health. Sharing this will improve our health and also those of us around us. Sites like CureTogether have demonstrated what powerful information can come out of people sharing information about their health. You’ll only see more of this in the future, so get ready.

Also, don’t forget about the feature that Facebook added a couple of months ago that allows pharma and healthcare Pages to add a footer that is always visible, which can be added to the bottom of your Facebook Page. This can be used for disclaimers or other information that you always want visible. This postincludes a video demonstration of exactly how to implement this feature. You can see this feature in action on this Facebook Page for Curital, an imaginary pharma product I created.

 If you’re interested in picking up our company’s point of view paper on the Facebook changes, you can get it here: Major Facebook Changes and What They Mean for Your Brand (1913 downloads). I’ll be going into more detail on all of these changes in some upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

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13 thoughts on “How New Facebook Features Will Impact Healthcare

  1. Good post but there are two issues here Jonathan.  First, has pharma really learned what social media is all about and what people want in social media ?  Second, is pharma ready to move from push marketing to engagement marketing and dedicate resources to make it happen?  It has been my experience that pharma overall is a lot more than risk adverse although there are some pioneers who are experimenting.

    The other aspect that we need to consider is that research has shown that time and time again people don’t really use social media as a primary source of health information they use it as a secondary source.

    1. Good points, Rich. 

      To be clear, I didn’t say anywhere in this post that these features would make it easier for pharma to market anything via social media. I was saying that this particular feature might make people more willing to share some of their health information more publicly, which I believe overall is a good thing for the system. Pharma might have no place in this at all.

      I COMPLETELY agree with what you’re saying about social media not being a primary source of health information. Again, I’m not saying people will get advice from social media, but simply that features like Facebook just released might change a very specific behavior by essentially introducing the concept of sharing health information to many people. The value of that sharing might not come on Facebook or any other social media site, but that behavior might encourage people to share more in other areas over time, which could result in them getting better care.

  2. Anonymous

    I like Rich’s point, which I think speaks to what you’ve said before about the fact that many companies in the healthcare space (esp. pharma) may not be ready to do SM, and it is not a good idea to engage unless you are ready to do more than just use FB as a way to disperse marketing materials. 

    Having said that, I think an obvious truth about SM is that you will absolutely make mistakes if you are new to it, whether you hire “social media gurus” or not. Better to get in on the ground floor and make small mistakes that you can learn from. In that sense the real challenge for pharma is going to be learning how to have a conversation with customers that doesn’t necessarily revolve around giving medical advice or pushing products (real content curation might well be their ticket, with a clear “we are not endorsing or recommending ” marker on shared content). Clearly the govt. guidelines are tricky, but as you’ve noted not impossible. And the conversation is going to happen whether they are there or not. 

    1. I’m with you. I think part of the problem is that whenever I post something about social media in healthcare, the immediate assumption is that it’s presenting some way for pharma companies to leverage the idea. A lot of the ideas I write about actually don’t have an immediate applicability to pharma marketing. Sometimes there just isn’t a way to make it work no matter how sophisticated they might become with social media. This is probably one of those times.

      Maybe I need to be more explicit in posts to say “this is only an FYI…don’t do this if you’re a pharma company”

  3. Great post and insights.  Right now there are a lot of pundits who insist that Facebook has too much power and that too many people don’t like the changes but whether people will actually leave Facebook is the question and I doubt they will.   As I wrote this morning on my site there is so much damn conflicting health information (i.e. prostate cancer treatment and medical device implants) that patients have to really confused which in turn probably leads to more time spent online and more confusion. Social media is def part of the process in healthcare how much is yet to be determine (I think it varies by condition).   Will Facebook gain momentum in healthcare ?  I believe it will but I also believe the healthcare industry needs to take note because nobody should be making a healthcare decision not to seek medical help based on what they read online.  As for timeline ?   It seems that Gen X & Y are more afraid of it than older consumers but I agree I think it could help people get more relevant information when THEY need it

  4. Hi Jonathon,
    As someone who has a previous health condition, I could NOT agree more. The healthcare industy needs no new info that would allow then to denies or increase the cost of our heath care coverage!
    It would be so simple for them to look back on your timeline and decide they will not cover an illness based on something you added to your Timeline back 10 years before. This is already happening.
    They need no more power than they already have. People might go back and add info and be mistaken about the time frame and they may not understand the implications.
    In my opinion, whatever small benefit people might receive is far out weighed by the HUGE disadvantages.
    The health insurance companies cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They are always looking for ways to get out of paying.

    1. I’m going to assume you meant “could not DISagree more” based on the rest of your comment.

      Here’s the thing, your health insurance company would already have this information because they paid for claims related to it. So, it wouldn’t be a revelation to them. Second, there are many regulations that prevent companies from not covering or increasing premiums based on pre-existing conditions. For example, if you switch jobs (and have coverage with each and no uninterrupted coverage time), the new insurance company can’t deny coverage for preexisting conditions. That’s part of HIPPA. In addition, the new healthcare reform bill signed into law in March 2010 eliminates preexisting condition requirements and biases (this is already in effect for those under 19 on their parents plan and goes into effect for everyone in 2014). Finally, assuming you manage your privacy settings on your Facebook account appropriately, any information you shared wouldn’t be available to an insurance company. That is, make it visible only to your friends and the company would have no way of seeing it. If they found a way, they’d find themselves in a massive amount of trouble for either spying on your or hacking into Facebook…both seem unlikely. They’d have better luck breaking into your doctor’s office and looking through your chart.

      If you have a health condition, you’ve probably already shared information about it that’s available in the same way that Timeline information would be available. If you’ve ever mentioned anything about your health, that could be used also based on what you’re saying, but it isn’t.

      1. Hi Jonathon,
        Whoops you right. This issue is very upsetting to me. I meant
        I could not DISagree more. Thank you for clarifying it.

        The Ins. Co can not deny you coverage but they can charge so much it is the same thing! My coverage under Hippa was going to be over $1500/month with no drug coverage! I could not afford it so it is the same as there being no coverage. Most people in the middle class could not afford this! My prescriptions cost over $500.00/month! Ins. Co hire companies to search for records to find info so they dont have to pay claims so don’t try to tell me they would not do it. I know of people who have had claims denied because of info the Ins Cos found out about on Facebook.
        As to the new law, I tried to get Ins using it and still could not get any affordable coverage so if you have the name of someone to talk to that would resolve the issue I would love access to it. Of course I can wait till 2014 but I am not holding my breath that it will be any better. Ins. Cos are trying to get it repealed and they will most likely succeed. Their lobbyists are very powerful.
        Unless you have a health condition that requires regular medical care and have no access to group ins through an employer or spouse I respectfully say you don’t know what you are talking about in regards to this matter.
        p.s. Did you know the biggest cause of bankruptcy amongst baby boomers is medical bills? It is also the biggest reason they lose their homes!

        1. Sorry your experiences with the industry haven’t been all that positive. I don’t mean to oversimplify things or make it sound like a cake walk for everyone because I know that it is anything but that for many. We’ll probably have to agree to disagree here. Certainly, you’re providing the other side of the story here and having both pieces of information is helpful to people, so I welcome the debate. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you so much for the post. Really interesting topic. Healthcare and social media. I think that we are already sharing a lot of information regarding our health status (sometimes no even knowing that we are reviling this info.).The thing is what pharma industry would like to do with that.

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