Facebook’s Foray into Digital Healthcare

November 5, 2019

The social media giant’s new tool is seen as a complementary vehicle to enhanced consumer participation in healthcare.

Facebook is working with U.S. health organizations to offer a Preventive Health tool that connects people to health resources and checkup reminders.

People can use the tool to find affordable places to receive care, set reminders to schedule tests, and mark when tests are completed. Facebook’s initial focus is on the top two leading causes of death in the US: heart disease and cancer, (according to CDC) as well as the flu, a seasonal illness that affects millions each year. The resources available in the tool are provided by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and CDC.

Todd Johnson, chief strategy officer, at GetWellNetwork, a global consumer health technology company, says that he is encouraged that big tech is seeking ways to help in the detection and prevention of diseases. 

Today, the majority of Americans miss out on preventative care, according to research, which found only 8% of adults aged 35 and older receive all of the high-priority clinical preventative services that are recommended to them.

“With the potential to not only reduce costs, but also detect diseases early and when it’s the most treatable, it’s critical that consumers take action and place a greater emphasis on attending routine checkups and make recommended appointments for screenings and tests,” Johnson says. “However, there are often many barriers that restrict consumers from doing so, such as being unaware of the risks, false assumptions that they will take a long time, inability to find a nearby location, fear of associated costs and more. Now, with this tool, consumers will receive reminders and pointers, which similar to other digital health tools, will help close any unnecessary gaps and facilitate a greater involvement in preventative care services.”  

Facebook’s announcement also signals a new opportunity for individuals to proactively seek care to address symptoms or risks early, according to Johnson. “As many consumers either choose to or unknowingly miss out on preventative care, it’s critical that healthcare providers do what they can to provide the best support and resources to encourage a change in consumer behaviors,” he says. “However, even with provider guidance, there are certain barriers that cause consumers to refrain from signing up for tests, setting new appointments and investing in their care. That is why digital health tools, including the new offering from Facebook, are positive and influential vehicles that can help alleviate consumer concerns, spark awareness and lead to an overall healthier patient population.”

Certain public health initiatives been bolstered by big tech, such as blood drives and vaccination awareness, but bridging the gap from consumer technology to healthcare services can be a slippery slope, according to Johnson. 

Related: Facebook And Instagram To Combat Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

“So, to ensure success, big technology providers are best served by partnering with experts, like Facebook is doing with the American Cancer Society, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and CDC, to ensure appropriate use of interventions and not fall for the seduction of revenue generation from overtreatment,” he says.

Health executive impact

This is positive news for healthcare executives, as it represents a new channel in which consumers can better understand the importance of preventative care and take steps to improve their overall health, according to Johnson.

“Facebook’s offering doesn’t mean that healthcare executives will have less regular touchpoints or interactions with their patients, but instead, it will serve as a complementary vehicle to encourage enhanced consumer participation when it comes to their healthcare,” he says. “Unfortunately, many consumers, especially those in younger generations, tend to skip their regular appointments or forgo preventative care recommendations, often because they forget, don’t truly understand the value or are afraid of the associated costs. Facebook’s new offering, along with other digital health tools, will provide another avenue, beyond suggestions from healthcare providers, to remind consumers of the importance of pursuing preventative measures, such as heart disease tests, cancer screenings or vaccinations.”

Healthcare executives should continue to focus on how to provide the best overall care and patient experience, while helping consumers make the best decisions about their personal care, according to Johnson.

“To do this, it’s important that they look to digital health tools to help answer any lingering questions, personalize the care journey, and deliver a highly connected, seamless experience along every step of the way,” he says.

Tracey Walker is senior editor of Managed Healthcare Executive.