Next Generation "Social Health" Information Systems

"Social networking" websites like Facebook are now being used regularly by hundreds of millions of people around the world to connect with each other. "Social commerce" web sites like Groupon have now emerged connecting consumers with local stores and national supply chains. What's next?  Look for next generation "social health" information web sites.

At most family gatherings and many other social settings, the conversation always seems to eventually get around to people's health. People talk about their ailments, recent surgical procedures, new medications they are on, their favorite doctors, worst doctors, hospital stays, and much more. What we're now starting to see is these same conversations and sharing of health care information moving onto the web into emerging "social health" web sites.

Some of the key features "social health" information systems will include the ability to:
• Create health care user groups that share common interests or affiliations;
• Create personal profiles and share selected health information with 'friends';
• Upload pictures or 'streaming' health information & education videos;
• Hold discussions about a wide range of health care issues in public forums;
• Share information about favorite health care providers, treatment received, drug reactions, alternative medicine solutions, support groups, and more.
• Maintain personal health records (PHR) and access a wide range of preventive health tools.

The following are some examples of the many "social health" web sites that have already emerged to meet a wide variety of needs for both health care providers and patients.

Social Networking Sites for Patients

  • DailyStrength is a social network that provides a space for people with a wide variety of medical, psychological and life conditions to discuss their struggles and treatment received.
  • Rareshare is a social network for people coping with rare diseases like adrenomyeloneuropathy or erythromelalgia.
  • PatientsLikeMe offers its members the chance to connect with other patients dealing with similar issues and to research health information and data related to their condition.
  • HealthyPlace was initially launched in 2006 as RealMentalHealth.Com. It was one of the first social networking site focusing on mental health wellness and treatment.
  • OneRecovery is a web site for alcoholics, drug abusers, and people with eating disorders that helps give them the ability to communicate with one another and give them strength during their recovery journey.

Social Networking Sites for Physicians

  • TargetRX is about connecting doctors with one another and fostering legitimate medical research into treatment methods with new and existing medications.
  • Sermo is a collaborative web site is aimed at improving medical practice, physician advocacy, and patient care.
  • MomMD®  is an online community and career site offering professional and personal support for women physicians, residents, medical and pre-med students.
  • Biomedexperts bringing medical researchers together and empowering them to collaborate online.
  • ClinicalVillage is an online community for clinicians to communicate together about what is happening in their practices.

The value of social networking in health care has not yet been firmly established. However, "social health" information systems and networks have the potential to radically redefine relationships and generate a fundamental shift away from the traditional flow of information in health care currently defined by payers, physicians, hospital systems and pharmaceutical companies. Social health sites will go far beyond the capabilities of personal health record (PHR) systems currently being offered by various health care organizations.

Are you using a "social health" web site? Do you have a favorite one? Tell us about your experience  -  what you like, or don't like, about these sites.