Could Google+ Transform Healthcare?

Google+ vs Facebook

by Krissy Goelz (@krisgoelz)

Recently, we were asked what we thought about how Google+ could affect healthcare, by someone who had read an Xconomy post on the same question.

So, does this newest, mega-hyped social network have the potential to really transform the industry? As youve seen with our many point/counterpoint articles, we like to pick up an issue and look at it from all different sides. And certainly this question has a few possible answers. Lets look at them.

“Yes! Google+ is already transforming healthcare.

Like the rest of Google+, its getting there, just maybe a little more slowly than we expected. As one piece of evidence, just look at this list (curated by Ed Bennett of the University of Maryland Medical Center) of hospitals on Google+. (You probably know Ed from his encyclopedic and invaluable Hospital Social Network List.) Its not huge, but its a sign. Hospitals realize that they need to find new ways of communicating and advertising in order to survive in an ever more competitive. They havent historically been known for being cutting-edge in social media, so you could argue that their presence on Google+ is a sign that its gaining mainstream acceptance.

The main way in which Google+ could change healthcare, or any industry, is in its revolutionizing the concept of sharing. Thanks to Google+, sharing is no longer an all-or-nothing proposition. And that, friends, is what will change the game. You dont want everyone you know to be privy to your health history – you want that information available only to a very select group of people, who can only do very select types of things with your data. A year ago, social networking didnt offer that ability. Today, thanks to Google+, its not only feasible, but extant.

“No! Google+ wont have much effect on healthcare at all.

On the other hand, its not likely, the skeptics say, that Google+ could transform an industry when it can barely transform itself into a social network. This is mostly a reaction borne of the disappointment people feel. The network arrived like a cannon blast, but has since fallen to more like kazoo-level excitement. Some pessimists say its never going to rise above that level. A social network does need a good structure, but it also needs the user-supplied content to succeed. Without that, its just a skeleton. So with people not using Google+… well, if it falls in the forest, will anyone care?

“Maybe? Google+ could matter to healthcare… or it could not.

The potential effect of Google+ on healthcare depends upon the long-term health of Google+. Thus far, reports of its death, like Mark Twains, have been greatly exaggerated. Dont forget that Facebook didnt come out of nowhere; its just that when anything hits its tipping point, it seems to. Perhaps Google+ will come to nothing, and then, obviously, it wont change healthcare. But what if its biggest rival, Facebook, does put a foot wrong, and Google+ seizes the opportunity? Then, it may change our social networking, our relation to friends and family, and, certainly, it could also change our healthcare.

Bottom line? Its too soon to know… but it might not be Google+ who does it.

I cant in good conscience be as optimistic as Rich Whalley and Steve Dickman, the authors ofthe original post that brought up this topic. They seem to believe pretty wholeheartedly that Google+ is changing the healthcare game. But while the geeks (and I count myself among them) were all thrilled about Google+, in the months since its launch, its fallen fallow – and I dont know for sure if it can come back.

However, what does intrigue me was something our friend Jon Richman had to say recently about the new Facebook Timeline – and, in particular, the new ability to add “health and wellness updates. Heres a bit of what he had to say:

They even suggest a few to get you started (“Broke a Bone, “Had a Surgery, “Overcame an Illness). However, you can put in anything you want here. One of the big reasons why people dont share health information publicly, including Facebook, is because they dont see others doing it. Its not the norm. Well, sharing your location wasnt the norm a few years ago, but people started doing it via “checkins and now its pretty common among a large percentage of people. The question is whether this will extend to sharing health information.

My prediction is that it will. Not today or tomorrow, but in the near future. The tipping point will be when people start noticing some benefit for sharing this information. There really isnt much incentive now. However, if you knew that youd get better care by sharing this information, you probably would.

That, to me, is the crux of the matter. When we can use social networks to help patients help themselves faster and better than they could be cared for otherwise – thats the transformation, the tipping point, the revolution.

So what do you think? Is Google+ going to revolutionize healthcare? Is Facebook? Do social networks have this capability at all? And if they do, what will patients use it for – what will that killer-app functionality be?



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