Cambridge, Massachusetts–Social media has become an intricate part of our daily lives. With an excess of 1 billion users worldwide, there’s an emerging niche in social which has the potential to become an invaluable tool. To date, social media has been used to connect current and past friends and to forge new relationships with others who have like interests.
Social networks have been built around conversation and some have included key features, like FourSquare, which allows its users to rate eateries and more. But now, it appears that social networking could be a useful tool in the world of health care. And this new use could be the start of a revolutionary change in the health care industry.
In 2004, PatientsLikeMe made its debut on the internet. The creation of two brother MIT engineers, Ben and Jamie Heywood, the social site currently has about 200,000 users who discuss approximately 1,800 diseases. The purpose behind the social platform is for patients with rare conditions to find one another, connect, and help health care providers piece together a more complete picture.
The site earns revenue by selling its user data to pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. And its members are told upfront about the social site’s business practice. “We’re radically open about it. We tell our members exactly what we do with their data, where it’s going, and for what purpose,” said Ben Heywood. User data is also made available to universities for research.
Then there’s Practice Fusion, a site which allows medical doctors to transfer patient files easily. And the site currently has 150,000 physicians using it, with over 60 million combined patients. Moreover, the social network has launched Patient Fusion, which allows its users to post reviews of their primary health care providers.
With these and like sites at the disposal of consumers and health care providers, the social media world is broadening its imprint and perhaps proving it can serve a very useful purpose. It has done so in the past when disaster has stricken and people used social networks to communicate.