Facebook Healthcare

Eric Peacock is the co-founder and CEO of MyHealthTeams.

A recent statistic from the CDC reported that 1 in 50 kids in America will be diagnosed with autism. Chances are, someone in your life will be affected by it – perhaps your friend’s son or a daughter of an employee in your company or even your own child. By the end of this decade, more than a half a million of these kids with autism will become adults with autism. Unfortunately, our health care system is woefully unprepared to handle this epidemic growth.

The bigger problem is that autism is just one of about 50 chronic conditions overwhelming the healthcare system. One in two Americans has a chronic condition right now. Autism, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, psoriasis, and depression are just a start of the long list.

If you’re one of the people diagnosed with a chronic condition, this is probably what you’ll do:

  1. Drink from fire hose – You Google like you’ve never googled before to learn everything you can about autism
  2. Piece together some semblance of an action plan — Based on your Googling, you’ll write down a laundry list of critical (and maybe not so critical) to-do’s. For a child with autism, it would include: speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral analysis, experimenting with diet, getting into the right school districts, negotiating the right services, finding the right insurance, and so on.
  3. Try to find others who have been in your shoes – Instincts set in and you say, “Why does it feel like I’m reinventing the wheel here? I want to find other people who have been in this situation and learn from them.” You want perspective and validation from those people – not just your doctors.

Providing the right information and regular support for patients is something the health care system will never, ever be able to do on its own. A big part of the solution will come from startups like us, but probably not from the likes of Facebook. Here’s why:

People expect mass market functionality for niche market needs

We’ve launched MyAutismTeam – a social network for parents of kids with autism, MyBCTeam (for women diagnosed with breast cancer), and MyMSTeam (for people with multiple sclerosis), and a lot of members signing up came from Facebook groups. Why? On Facebook they couldn’t refine their search beyond just folks with autism, or women with breast cancer. The 32-year old woman with stage 2 invasive lobular breast cancer who was thinking about how to have kids after chemotherapy wanted to find 20 or 30, even 100 young women just like her – not every woman with breast cancer. People expect to be able to find others just like them and learn from them. They expect it to be as easy as finding an old high-school friend on Facebook.

Your Facebook friends aren’t who you need

Facebook is good at connecting us with people we already know. Your Facebook friends probably don’t know the first thing about parenting a child with autism or dealing with multiple sclerosis. The social networking paradigm needs to be changed to make it easier for you to connect with total strangers who just happen to have exactly the same health condition as you.

People don’t want to share their health details with everyone on Facebook

Women with breast cancer don’t want to debate the pros and cons of a tram versus flap breast reconstruction on a site where the guy they dated in high school could potentially read it. Of course, Facebook groups offers some protection from just anyone dropping in, but it’s not enough to really address the concerns of these women. The plain fact is that people want to do social networking about their condition with other folks who get what they are going through.

If you build it, they will come (after a lot of effort and continuous iteration)

People facing a chronic condition are busy. In addition to an already busy home life and career, they now have appointments and treatments galore, with very real side effects slowing them down. You just can’t expect these people to find you, so you need to reach out to them using every scrappy marketing tool you can think of to rise above the clutter.

Once they find you, they’ll become loyal, raving fans of your social network – as long as you listen to what they have to say. My company MyHealthTeams releases a new version of each of our sites about every week,based on feedback from our users. And we’ve gone so far as to make sure we launch a separate social network for every condition we address. That kind of focus is tough for a mass-market player to pull off., but I’m happy to say that when you do, the rewards are great.

Original doctor photo via Shutterstock; Illustration by Tom Cheredar

Eric Peacock is the co-founder and CEO of MyHealthTeams. MyHealthTeams believes that if you are diagnosed with a chronic health condition, it should be easy to find the best people around to help you. To date, they have launched MyAutismTeam (for parents of kids with autism), MyBCTeam (women with breast cancer), and most recently MyMSTeam (individuals with multiple sclerosis).