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Facebook Eyeing Health ‘Community’

People frequently use Facebook to update friends and loved ones about health issues. Now Facebook is looking for a way to make health care an integral part of the social media site. Following on the heels of Samsung and Apple, Facebook is planning to create a group of online support communities that would connect Facebook users that suffer with various afflictions.

However, the online support communities are still in the conceptual stage, according to a Reuters report. During the past several months, Facebook has held meetings with medical industry experts and entrepreneurs, and will eventually set up a research and development unit to determine which health apps will be tested.

Also, Facebook has formed a separate team to study how preventative applications could help improve users’ lifestyles. Those apps could include fitness and calorie trackers (similar to MyFitness Pal) or they might offer guidelines on nutrition, exercise and recommended food consumption.

New Users Wanted

The underlying reason for the new venture, naturally, is to bring new users to Facebook. Online communities have been shown to be valuable sources of support for people with health problems, and there are countless Web sites and forums that offer both advice and forums for patients to connect, but Facebook’s hope is to create a dominant, consolidated version of those sites.

That won’t be easy, if only because of the glut of fitness and health sites and apps already out there. At Mobile World Congress 2014 WP Hong, Samsung’s head of Electronics Media Solutions Center, cited research saying that 32 percent of mobile users are already using fitness apps, 31 percent of tablet users look up health-related information, and 25 percent of smartphone users track health, exercise and dieting data on their devices

One other catalyst for the move might be the surprise success of Facebook’s “organ-donor status initiative” launched two years ago. On a day when Facebook altered profile pages to allow members to specify their organ donor-status, 13,054 people registered to be organ donors online in the United States, compared to the daily average of 616 registrations, according to the American Journal of Transplantation.

Lots of Competition

Another complicating factor is that Facebook isn’t the first to think of such an idea. Apple’s iOS 8 operating system contains the HealthKit app, which, when enabled, gathers health and fitness data collected by third-party applications and displays them in one place.

Samsung, meanwhile, recently launched the Gear Fit wearable and S Health 3.0 Platform. Samsung said the platform is designed to “establish an ecosystem which will ultimately provide users with an integrated and more comprehensive view of their well being.” Using sensors, it tracks health data when teamed up with devices such as the Gear Fit, analyzing information before displaying it on a user’s smartphone. With the user’s permission, that data can also be sent to developers.

Speaking of permission, privacy will probably be a hurdle regardless of what form Facebook’s initiative faces. The company has faced criticism this year for manipulating user news feeds for the sake of research. Between that and a stream of stories about retail data breaches, users might not want to share information about their health problems.

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