It's All About the Networks

Why are P2P social networks important in healthcare?

Docs network. Nurses network. Hospital administrators network.

But until relatively recently, patients didn't network.

"Users" of hospital and healthcare services, especially those challenged with mobility issues, lacked a convenient way to connect and share experiences.

Until, that is, people like Amy of Diabetes Mine decided they had valuable information to share, and built web-based platforms where first-person perspective data could be reciprocally distributed.

I like the idea of viral networking that coalesces around a specific healthcare-related purpose, both personally (as a patient) and professionally (as an early careerist in H/HC).

When I can tell what a networking site's goal is (and what they'll do with my information if I decide to register), I can select whether or not I would find time spent there valuable.

Obvious conclusion, no?

One would think. However, in analyzing emerging Health 2.0 companies (including sites in private Beta), I've encountered much more difficulty discerning motivation than I expected.

It should be, and has been, relatively easy to pick up on the primary goals of most sites ("become the best site for people with diabetes in Canada"), but it's much harder to discern secondary motivations centered around revenue gain.

Many of the sites seem to be gathering more data about users than necessary for a basic registration (on one site I actually had to enter conditions of interest before I was permitted to proceed), and this makes me a bit nervous.

When I see that a relatively newly birthed site gathering this much info about me already has large splashy animated ads from big pharma and other industry heavy-hitters, I'm wondering if you're really aiming to aggregate a ton of marketable data and then sell the firm, making money by sharing your users info. Most of us wouldn't find out our data had been sold until after the fact.

That's why a few new partnerships that expand functionality and combine user-bases in the wider social/professional networking world are so interesting.

These firms are laying out a roadmap of what works and what doesn't. H2.0 companies can follow their lead and then forge ahead once a strong user base is developed.

First, there's the Wall Street Journal and Facebook partnership (VentureBeat). One cross-vertical opportunity might be constructing a widget which lets your H2.0 users connect to favorite articles on MedScape, Blogspot blogs, Digg, etc.

WSJ and Facebook cross the age boundary to partner on widget — The venerable Wall Street Journal will be adding a new feature to its site showing readers which stories are popular with their Facebook friends that day, powered by a company called Loomia. Not the most likely-sounding partnership, but Andy Beal has some possible explanations. The most likely: “The WSJ is just desperate to attract some hip under 30-year old readers.”

Then there's Hoover's purchase of VisiblePath, a company-centric LinkedIn (also from VentureBeat). One cross-vertical opportunity might be the acquisition of other H2.0 sites that are struggling to pull in user-bases but have better platform functionality a la TaskBin (easier to use, better throughput via links/sign-ins, etc). From what I've seen, plenty of Health 2.0 sites could use some serious design/functionality help - EDs aren't the only healthcare areas with clogged throughput.

Confirmed: Visible Path acquired by Hoover’sVisible Path has been a sort of low-key competitor to LinkedIn, offering a corporate social networking experience centered around companies rather than individuals. We mentioned late last year that it might have been picked up by a large corporation, which turns out to be Hoover’s, a well-known resource for information about companies. Visible Path, based in Foster City, Calif., had raised a total of $22.4 million, but the acquisition price was not disclosed. Hoover’s also announced that it has launched Hoover’s Connect, another business social network.

Yes, I use LinkedIn, regularly. I have a Facebook page, which I use very seldom and am considering nixing. I do not have a MySpace page.

I use LinkedIn because it actually has helped me stay in touch with people I've only met virtually (other Idea Crossing Innovation Challenge judges, for example).

So, H2.0 companies, or H/HC firms looking do integrate consumer-centric H2.0 practices, here's my recommendation, and it's blindingly simple - be sure you offer an easy-to-use networking functionality with a purpose.

That purpose, and appropriate privacy safeguards, should be clearly stated to engender trust in patients/users.

I'll go a step further and say for your most active, involved users you should also include a statement regarding revenue, and how you do NOT expect to earn it by selling my data. (Yes, this issue is a big deal - this isn't the first time I've talked about it, and it probably won't be the last - Click here to read my Open Letter to Health 2.0 Companies).

We healthcare consumers are a notoriously fickle lot, and if your functionality provokes even a vague sense of distrust, we'll jump ship and wait for the next best site to come along.

If you have a concept for an H2.0 site in the works, never fear - there's money out there to fund your H2.0 venture (VentureBeat), and from inside the industry:

Clarian Health Partners launches VC unit with $25M – Clarian Health Partners, an Indianapolis hospital chain, launched a venture-capital arm, Clarian Health Ventures, with an initial $25 million investment. The release is here.

Clarian aims to make early-stage investments that will benefit its parent company and to support economic development and innovation in Indiana. The fund expects to make initial investments in the range of $250,000 to $500,000, and as much as $3 million over the life of an investment. Clarian’s first investment was in the cancer-biomarker biotech CS-Keys, which we covered yesterday.

As an example of how to do a health networking site the right way, I provide Exhibit A: the Health on the Net Foundation's HON Code for medical and health websites.

Not all of the 8 principles will apply, depending on your business model, but I suggest you pay close attention to the "Privacy" and "Financial Disclosure" recommendations, in addition to the Advertising Policy.

Oh, and always, always identify authors of your content and cite sources when appropriate.

Yes, Health Management Rx is HONCode compliant.

It took me 3 tries to fulfill all the requirements. HONCode has made this a better site, and me a better blogger for requiring me to reexamine the purpose of the blog and my motivation for blogging.

Exhibit B: I'm Too Young For This.org.

You can easily find the site's purpose, and look at funders by clicking on the "Our Supporters" tab.

Plus, founder Matthew Zachary has organized a site that dares to counterattack the debilitating effects of cancer with sarcasm and dry humor.

The fact is, decreasing global economies of scale have made it easy to build an H2.0 site, and integrate it into your brick and mortar hospital model. The issue now is how you build a site with a clearly stated purpose that invites users to demonstrate trust?

Luckily, examples are out there. Please excuse me while I go poll my social network to find some more.

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