Social Networking and Healthcare: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Here’s an interesting projection for 2013 from Montana Cherney at FrogDesign.

Sensors, social networks change health behavior—on a large scale

“. . . Ubiquitous connectivity, real-time remote monitoring, and social networking are three of the most prevalent factors revolutionizing health care. We’ll see more and more people connect to devices, share their data, and reach out to others. Doing so will allow them to enhance their care experiences by relating with others with similar symptoms, receiving social support for achieving goals, and “crowdsourcing” treatments and cures.

“In addition to patients receiving more personalized guidance, individual health data that is collected will increasingly be used to provide more proactive care at the population level. Yes, many connected care solutions that collect individual data exist today . . . In 2013, expect more services such as these to emerge and grow. They synthesize information to make it more relevant to providers and patients alike, and therefore actionable; then these services broadcast their analyses to improve the quality of life for not just one, but for all.”

The problem is, the trends Montana notes are real, but most people who are doing this sort of thing probably don’t realize what they are doing. Smartphones are great and there are many apps which are or could be useful for health care – but many of these send much data to the app vendor, and who knows where it goes from there? There’s some control if the vendor is actually a healthcare organization, but in the kinds of cases Montana is talking about, it probably isn’t. (I’ve got a presentation on mobile apps in healthcare – let me know if you want a copy.)

The information these organizations “synthesize” might well lead to actionable information for providers and patients, but might also lead to actionable information to marketers, employers, homeland security and law enforcement (which could be good or bad, depending on who does what with what info, and your POV), current and ex-spouses . . . And if this trend heats up as soon as 2013, I have to guess most consumers who use mobile apps for health care won’t be very sensitized to these possibilities. Of course, the FTC has provided some privacy guidance for app developers, but for less-than-scrupulous vendors it will no doubt be possible to be less-than-fully-transparent – and of course, who reads things like privacy policies anyway?

As to “crowdsourcing treatments and cures,” talk about a signal-to-noise problem! Physicians are already wary (and often weary) of patients who have read all about their symptoms on the Internet and come to . . . interesting conclusions. Sure, sometimes the “crowd” might just come up with good advice, but isn’t it more likely they will more often than not just add confusion?