Apple has Apple Health, Google has Google Fit and Samsung has S Health. Now, Facebook is also reportedly jumping into the health bandwagon and developing its own healthcare platform.
An exclusive report by Reuters cites three Facebook insiders who requested anonymity and said that the social network has plans of building a platform for developing health-related apps and establishing online communities where users who share common health problems can interact and provide support for one another. Sources say Facebook is still in the planning stage and has been conducting meetings with health industry experts and entrepreneurs to gather ideas and creating its own research and development team that will test health and fitness apps on the new platform.
Of particular interest to Facebook is the creation of "support communities" where people can connect with others who share the same ailments. It is reported that Facebook's product teams discovered that more and more people are increasingly growing more comfortable to ask for advice and share their experiences with other people online. These support groups aren't new, but the popularity of Facebook could give these communities, such as PatientsLikeMe, an advantage in reaching out to more users. Facebook is also considering "preventative care" apps that will help users improve their lifestyles, which could include apps that track users' calories or deliver customized workout plans.
Of course, Facebook wants to keep up with its rivals, but the social network has another motivation to follow the trend into healthcare - the success of its organ-donor status feature. In 2012, Facebook added an organ donor status to the Life Events section of the profile page, where users can identify themselves as organ donors. On the day the new status was launched, a total of 13,054 people in the United States signed up to be organ donors, well above the average 616 donor sign-ups every day, as per a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Transplantation.
However, one major hurdle for Facebook is the privacy issues it has to contend with. Clearly, Facebook does not have an optimal track record when it comes to keeping people's data private, and an app that consolidates users' health data needs to convince people of information security for it to become widely accepted.
"I could see Facebook doing well with applications for lifestyle and wellness, but really sick patients with conditions like cancer aren't fooling around," says Frank Williams, CEO of Evolent Health, which provides software services to doctors and other medical practitioners. "People would need anonymity and an assurance that their data and comments wouldn't be shared with their online contacts, advertisers, or pharmaceutical companies."
One source, however, says that Facebook may already have a few tricks up its sleeve to circumvent the privacy issue. The social network will reportedly launch the platform quietly under a different name. Results of a market study commissioned by Facebook shows many users of the Facebook-owned Instagram image-sharing service are not aware that it is owned by Facebook.
Its recent change of heart about Facebook's real names policy following a crackdown on the drag community who use their stage names in place of their legal names on Facebook may also have been caused by Facebook's plans, as people with medical problems may wish to interact with others anonymously.