San Jose, CA — Health care was a central part of the discussion at this year’s Facebook F8, the social media platform’s conference for entrepreneurs whose products are built on it. A new tool called “Health Support” will enable all Facebook users—more than 2.3 billion people across the globe, by some counts—to obtain community support for their specific health care needs. Specially designed features will help ensure confidentiality, to facilitate open discussion of often-intimate topics.

Perhaps Health Support’s most novel feature is that users can ask a group administrator to post a question on their behalf. That way, a user can cull important information and support from the answers provided by other group members, without having to attach their name to the conversation. Such a function may suggest that, in the wake of Facebook’s data scandal, the company is moving toward affording its users increased privacy.

This is not Facebook’s first foray into health care. Already, the platform uses artificial intelligence to flag posts that may indicate suicidal ideation or otherwise high-risk content. And more recently, it’s been working to contain the spread of vaccine misinformation by banning misleading ads. But, Health Support represents a new kind of health care commitment: offering people with specific afflictions not only crowdsourced solutions, but the comfort of a community.

Why This Matters

Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook app, announced at the conference: “Different communities have different needs. From communities that are built around specific circumstances like health conditions, or interests like gaming, or a neighborhood, or even around a common purpose like finding a job or shopping.” In other words, Facebook recognizes the most formative phenomenon in contemporary health care: that patients’ expectations are shaped by every other experience they have as consumers and as human beings. People expect the health care info they seek to be easily accessible and tailored to their particular needs—and brands must adopt a human-centric approach to keep their attention. 

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.