Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Medicine and Social Networking: An Inevitable Pairing?

Last week, I read with great interest this post from Hospital Impact about technology, health care, and the Facebook generation. The points raised are compelling ones, namely: Is social networking is a better vehicle to foster community and spread awareness of health care innovations? Does it successfully integrate health care into daily life? Would health care providers benefit from social networking, and would viral marketing benefit practitioners and patients alike?

While I was pondering these questions,, a consumer health search engine, launched its first Facebook application, the Healia Health Challenge. I use Facebook (albeit somewhat sparingly). I’ve used Helia. What would it be like to combine the two? Intrigued, I tried it out. (More specifics on the application follow below).

Of course, a whole new set of questions sprang to mind. Does the tech-savvy consumer/patient have emerging needs that depart from what more traditional Web forums, online communities, or list-servs can satisfy? Is this technological shift inevitable?

Between the great post at Hospital Impact and Amy’s query at Diabetes Mine, it’s clear the medblogging community has a lot to say about what it wants from health sites. As a corollary to all of this, I interviewed Jonathan Shaw, a marketing associate at, to what he had to say about healthcare and social networking. Here’s some of our discussion:

Q: Let's talk about social networking and healthcare innovation. What made you reach out to Facebook as compared to, say, exclusively health-related online communities?
A: When Facebook opened up its API to developers to build their own applications, we immediately realized we had a great opportunity here. We saw that we could create an application that’s both fun and educational, and can raise awareness about our search engine in a rapidly-growing medium. We do follow the health-related online communities closely, but we haven’t seen this sort of opportunity anywhere else yet – certainly not with the sort of exposure to a wide audience that Facebook provides.

Q: The Facebook application is a health quiz where top-scorers are designated "Chief of Medicine." What factors went into creating this type of quiz? The style and content cover a broad spectrum of health issues but at the same time, they speak to a particular type of healthcare consumer. Does the "Facebook generation" have different needs than other healthcare consumers?
A: We wanted our application to be fun but also stoke young people’s curiosity about health issues. Many of the questions in the quiz were sparked by lunchtime conversations in which we bantered about health-related issues with uncertain facts. One of us had heard that carbonated water is supposed to be bad for you; others hadn’t heard that. Who was right? We used Healia to get to the bottom of these mysteries and we wrote our answers based on what we found. Through this process, we learned about common health myths and included these in some of the questions. From what we’ve heard so far, people are sometimes surprised by what they learn through the Healia Health Challenge.

(Editor’s note: Despite an embarrassing mix-up between HDL and LDL cholesterol and a misstep here or there regarding things like caffeine’s ability to help a hangover, I rocked the Healia Health Challenge. That’s right, you can call me “Chief of Medicine.” It was fun, especially since I am a medical dork and am oddly competitive about objective tests I take by myself.)

Q: Do you have any other plans/developments in store in terms of Facebook and the Healia Health Challenge?
A: We definitely want to keep this application interesting for Facebook users who’ve installed it, so we’re currently working on a new set of questions. This is a fun, creative process and if you’ve got any ideas for questions we should cover, please send them to our Marketing Manager, Tassie DeMoney:

At the end of the day, I’ve proven that I know a lot about topical health care issues and now have an application on my Facebook page that tells people this, allows them to test themselves, and introduces them to a useful online resource. But is this first step the start of a new technological revolution for the health care consumer? You tell me.


Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie,

Thanks for the writeup, and congrats on Chief of Medicine status! :)
Folks with a Facebook account can find this application here:

Anonymous said...

I love it. I don't have a facebook account (my daughters do) -- should I? But the idea that my chronic illness coaching clients (those under 35?) might use this is fantastic. I'd love more ideas about how to use it -- and maybe a primer on how to set up an account :)

Nancy Wechsler said...

I want to know how to find these "social networks" out there in the world of facebook (which I have not as yet ventured into, being way over the usual age one things of when one thinks of facebook. But if it can be used as a resouce, a support, wow-- that's great. I might just check it out.
Nancy Wechsler

j said...

I'm 18 and definitely a part of the Facebook generation. I find Social Networking works really well, I've created my own Facebook group for my medical disability, MHE, and have had a few people join it. I called it The I Have More Bones Than You Society, (
I'm also a part of several other MHE related Facebook groups.

But I've never heard of this application, I'll have to check it out!

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