Can Facebook Cure What Ails You?

The possibilities of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) have been apparent for some time. The site can find you a date, connect you with long-lost friends & relatives and transform your business through “likes” and increased exposure. But can Facebook save your life? As doctors and medical researchers explore the possibilities, the answer remains to be seen.

The most obvious benefit of Facebook to the medical field is its roster of ready, willing and able survey participants. The same people who are willing to comment on videos of a cat will open up about weight problems, flu-like symptoms and other health issues. Healthcare professionals, in turn, can survey which ailments continue popping up among users and disseminate information that could slow or stop both sickness and disease.

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While the theory might sound overblown, there are countless examples of Facebook doing good deeds of this nature. In one instance, a mother who posted a photo of her sick son learned he had a rare disease before she even considered taking him to a doctor. Another study suggested that those at risk for obesity could be identified through their “likes” and other social media habits. Facebook users most often debating the best running gear, for example, were more physically fit than those discussing TV shows.

Considering how big a role marketing plays on Facebook these days, concerns of Big Brother health and diet recommendations following in kind are valid. Yet the social media approach has worked when it comes to “liking” hospitals and recommending treatment plans. If people are trusting casual friends and strangers for countless recommendations, they might as well trust health care professionals offering help on avoiding nasty viruses or preparing to travel overseas.

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Yet it is the anonymous aspect of a Facebook account that can call the entire process into question. Are those assessing their own symptoms doing it accurately? Are copycat users playing along to get attention and sympathy from the online community? These results are likely to occur as doctors and researchers get more involved with studies on Facebook. Yet the possibilities are endless for the scientific community. Positive peer pressure works too. In one case, Facebook spurred on thousands to become organ donors in a single day. It might have happened on their next trip to the DMV, but Facebook made it happen overnight.

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