Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Social Networking For Health

User-generated content is not the first thing you would look for when searching for health care info on the Internet -- or is it?

Kenneth Corbin of Internet News brings us an interesting perspective on the common ground between social media and health care:

"We're in the early days here of what is essentially a data experiment," Scott Mowbray, editorial director of Health.com, said of the fast growing online body of health information -- much of which is created by people who aren't doctors.

"News in health is not only something that's been discovered," he said. "It's you discovering something that might already be out there. To you, it's news as soon as you have a disease. Suddenly, it's the most important news in the world."

This rings true in my experience. Having watched a number of friends battle cancer and other chronic diseases, I have frequently been consulted to help them find info about their condition or proposed treatment online.

[...] panelists said that there is another, less structured revolution taking place where people seeking information about a health issue are looking to connect with others who have experience dealing with the same condition.

It's a form of social networking, though very different from what is found on a mass-appeal site like Facebook or MySpace. But the principles of viral distribution and user-generated content (UGC) are the same.

"It's about personalization of the information," said Benjamin Heywood, president of Patients Like Me, a site housing online communities for people dealing with specific diseases. "What you really want to know is the information that's relevant to me -- based on my situation, my condition."

Commonality of experience is a huge part of the draw. Being able to read about what experiences someone else had during their gall bladder surgery, chemotherapy, new diabetes treatment, etc., not only helps to personalize the situation but also gives those just starting treatments such as these to get an idea of what they are in for.

The image of a physician leaning over you saying "this won't hurt a bit," is an image everyone knows. Everyone is also familiar with the pain that is usually expected to follow that statement. With health care oriented social networking you would go into such a procedure knowing that it might cause you to become painfully light sensitive, or so nauseous that you cannot eat. Just like other strata of the social networking world it is the personal narrative that people seem to find magnetic.

As a social media consultant myself, I am well aware of some of the issues faced by projects like these. For one thing (Sanjay Gupta of CNN also comments on this in the article) people are always much more likely to actually leave a comment or write a post when they are angry. Rarely do they seem so disposed when it comes to positive or complimentary information.

This natural tendency skews the efforts of sites like these, but the question is does it skew too far to be effective?

SOURCE: "Health Care: Social Networking Gone Serious?" 06/09/08
photo courtesy of M. Keefe, used under its Creative Commons license

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