Social Media Meets Healthcare with Facebook Organ Donor Status

Facebook is the latest Internet giant to debut a feature that could have an impact on healthcare.

Jamie Hartford 1

May 8, 2012

3 Min Read
Social Media Meets Healthcare with Facebook Organ Donor Status

Facebook is the latest Internet giant to debut a feature that could have an impact on healthcare. The company announced May 1 that users of the social networking site can now share their organ donor status via their profiles.

Facebook users can add their organ donor status, including where and when they registered, to Timeline, the site’s chronological user interface. Those who aren’t yet donors can follow a link to sign up with the appropriate registry.

The site also offers other options for sharing health and wellness lifestyle events with followers. There are options to post about overcoming an illness, quitting a habit, weight loss, and more. As with any posts to the site, users can choose to make their health and wellness updates public, private, or viewable only by select Facebook “friends.”

A spokeswoman for the company says Facebook does not intend to expand options for users to share health information via the site.

“We dont have any plans to be in this field beyond the organ donor tool,” the company’s Sarah Feinberg said in a statement.

But people have shown a willingness to share and receive information about their health via social media. A Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey on consumer attitudes and behaviors about social media in healthcare found that almost a quarter of respondents post about their health experiences or updates on social media, and 18% use social media to trace and share their health symptoms or behavior. Almost half say they would use social media to share information about their health with a doctor.

Steven Waldren, MD, director of the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Center for Health IT, says social media is definitely having an impact on healthcare. Patients connect with each other to share information through sites such as PatientsLikeMe, an online health data-sharing platform, and medical devices such as glucometers offer secure online portals for users to upload data about their health. It’s not likely to end there, either.

“I think there will be a merging of social media and electronic health records in the future,” he says. “How that actually looks, it’s way too early to be able to think about that.”

As patients and doctors become more comfortable with integrating social media into healthcare, Waldren posits that social media might play an even more active role in care. Instead of having to check a separate portal, patients may get updates from wireless-enabled medical devices sent directly to the social media sites they check multiple times daily. Diabetic patients, for example, could see their blood sugar levels in their Facebook or Twitter feeds.

“The device could be on the social network,” Waldren says. “The device could actually be tweeting things out.”

If the information were shared, other diabetic patients could respond to offer advice. Alerts could also be built in to notify doctors if the captured data indicates a problem.

But along with opportunities, using social media for healthcare applications presents challenges. For doctors a constant stream of data from patients could create workflow issues. There are also concerns about privacy and HIPPAA compliance.

“It’s just now coming into the healthcare space, which has traditionally had a very specific definition of privacy,” Waldren says. “Social media is going to redefine what patients consider privacy in healthcare.”

Jamie Hartford


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