MyHealthTeams has developed three social networking sites, each of which focuses on a specific chronic health condition. Designed to provide inter-personal support, this niche approach could also generate substantial data streams to help research.
Social networks in the healthcare field are nothing new. Back in 2004, Benjamin and James Heywood and Jeff Cole, three MIT engineers, founded PatientLikeMe, a site which invites everyone to share the details of their state of health, their symptoms and treatment. The idea is that the more people share information relating to their health, the greater the chance of one person connecting with another who has a similar health profile – in terms of age, symptoms, diagnosis etc. However, MyHealthTeams, a San-Francisco-based startup that builds social networks for people coping with chronic health conditions, takes a slightly different approach. It has developed three social networks, each dedicated to a specific chronic disease – autism, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. The sites and the user experience focus on the idea of being part of a team, and are based on the principle that patients exchanging information and ideas over the Internet prefer to do so with people who suffer from the same condition.
The team approach
Network members are free to add anyone to their ‘teams’ – typically other patients on the social network and healthcare practitioners who are providing treatment. Users might wish to add a surgeon, a local doctor, a nurse, a psychologist, plus, for example, a wigmaker if a woman has lost her hair due to breast cancer treatment. In short, the team may comprise everyone who plays an important role in the life of the patient, helping him/her come to terms with their medical condition on a day-to-day basis. So in contrast to reviews on Yelp and ZocDoc, which gives grades to physicians based on their skills, the MyHealthTeams team concept enables patients to mark practitioners according to the moral support they offer and the impact they have on patient efforts to cope with illness.
In contrast to other social networks, which as a general rule group all types of patients together, MyHealthTeams has chosen to create a network for each specific disease. Patients prefer to associate with others who are or have been in their shoes, and the MyHealthTeams sites enable them to get in touch with people whose health profiles may be almost identical. A woman might for instance seek out other women aged between 33 and 44, suffering from breast cancer, in terminal stage and receiving biological therapy. This niche approach to chronic illness support could also prove fruitful for research, especially for advancing general understanding of each condition. In fact these dedicated sites seem to be attracting a good many people who are especially keen to join a community of patients trying to cope with the same condition as theirs, thus providing increasingly detailed information on these illnesses – which might prove a potential goldmine for researchers.