Facebook takes first step into health services

Efma feature

06 November 2019

Facebook will provide a digital health care service tool in the United States.


Facebook has launched a preventive health service throughout the United States. The tool is called Facebook Health and is designed to help prevent the top two causes of death in the US every year: heart disease and cancer.

The tool is now available to all users in the United States. It is not mandatory, users must opt in to take advantage of the service. Users can choose to receive personalized reminders about various health care tests and vaccines.

The primary focus is delivering information about cancer screenings, heart checkups, and flu vaccines. It takes a user’s age and sex from their Facebook profile and provides them with a list of recommended screenings based on those two data points.

The preventive measures are largely covered by insurance, but the tool also provides a map of federally qualified health care centers in underserved areas throughout the United States that provide services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

The recommendations that appear in the tool were developed in coordination with organizations such as the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society, and were reviewed by those organizations for accuracy before being posted to the tool.

This appears to be one of Facebook’s first steps into the health care space. Previously, they have promoted local blood drives in both the United States and India. This could serve as an innovative way for Facebook to provide its vast userbase with a potentially lifesaving tool.

Of course, as with most things Facebook these days, data privacy is a primary concern for customers and critics. This is especially true when it comes to information regarding one’s health. Facebook, for its part, reassures that it has taken the necessary steps to protect people’s privacy.

“Health is particularly personal, so we took privacy and safety into account from the beginning. For example, Preventive Health allows you to set reminders for your future checkups and mark them as done, but it doesn’t provide us, or the health organizations we’re working with, access to your actual test results,” the company wrote in a statement.

Health data is the next frontier for tech companies. Google just announced they have agreed to buy Fitbit for $2.1 billion. Apple monitors and tracks many health-related metrics with their Apple watch. A year ago, Amazon launched a machine learning project to mine data from electronic medical records in an attempt to better diagnose diseases. These companies want a slice of the more than $3 trillion spent annually on health care in the United States.

Facebook may face an uphill climb to get users to sign up to use the service. With recent high-profile data failures at tech giants, people may be understandably skeptical to turn over even more of their data to tech companies. Some medical organizations and privacy experts warn against medical data-sharing that could result in invasions of privacy.

It is notable that this service is being launched only in the United States. America lacks strong consumer data privacy protections compared to Europe. Federal privacy protections that limit how health care providers can use and share medical records no longer apply once patients transfer their data to consumer apps.

However the Facebook Health venture works out, it is clear that just as with financial offerings, tech giants are not settling for being mere social media and video sharing companies. Their ventures are increasingly reaching into areas previously considered far afield. Tech companies’ goals of modernizing unwieldy systems has the potential to reshape entire industries if they can maintain consumer trust.

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Keywords : Prevention , Health insurance , GAFA/New competitors

Geography : USA