Facebook Plots First Steps into Health Care

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By Christina Farr and Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook (FB) already knows who your friends are and the kind of things that grab your attention. Soon, it could also know the state of your health.

On the heels of fellow Silicon Valley technology companies Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG), Facebook is plotting its first steps into the fertile field of health care, said three people familiar with the matter. The people requested anonymity as the plans are still in development.

The company is exploring creating online "support communities" that would connect Facebook users suffering from various ailments. A small team is also considering new "preventative care" applications that would help people improve their lifestyles.

In recent months, the sources said, the social networking giant has been holding meetings with medical industry experts and entrepreneurs, and is setting up a research and development unit to test new health apps. Facebook is still in the idea-gathering stage, the people said.

Health care has historically been an area of interest for Facebook, but it has taken a backseat to more pressing products.

Recently, Facebook executives have come to realize that health care might work as a tool to increase engagement with the site.

One catalyst: the unexpected success of Facebook's "organ-donor status initiative," introduced in 2012. The day that 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, a 21 fold increase over the daily average of 616 registrations, according to a June 2013 study published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Separately, Facebook product teams noticed that people with chronic ailments such as diabetes would search the social networking site for advice, said one former Facebook insider. In addition, the proliferation of patient networks such as PatientsLikeMe demonstrate that people are increasingly comfortable sharing symptoms and treatment experiences online.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg may step up his personal involvement in health. Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, a pediatric resident at University of California San Francisco, recently donated $5 million to the Ravenswood Health Center in East Palo Alto.

Any advertising built around the health initiatives would not be as targeted as it could be on television or other media. Pharmaceutical companies, for instance, are prohibited from using Facebook to promote the sale of prescription drugs, in part because of concerns surrounding disclosures.

Privacy Concerns

Privacy, an area where the company has faced considerable criticism over the years, will likely prove a challenge. This week, the company apologized to users for manipulating news feeds for the purposes of research.

But Facebook may already have a few ideas to alleviate privacy concerns around its health initiatives. The company is considering rolling out its first health application quietly and under a different name, a source said. Market research commissioned by Facebook found that many of its users were unaware that photo-service Instagram is Facebook-owned, the source said.

Facebook's recent softening of its policy requiring users to go by their real names may also bolster the company's health plans. People with chronic conditions may prefer to use an alias when sharing their health experiences.

"I could see Facebook doing well with applications for lifestyle and wellness, but really sick patients with conditions like cancer aren't fooling around," said Frank Williams, chief executive of Evolent Health, a company that provides software and services to doctors and health systems.

People would need anonymity and an assurance that their data and comments wouldn't be shared with their online contacts, advertisers, or pharmaceutical companies, Williams said.

It remains unclear whether Facebook will moderate or curate the content shared in the support communities, or bring in outside medical experts to provide context.

Facebook declined to comment on its health care plans.

10 Financial Land Mines That Can Decimate Your Net Worth
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Facebook Plots First Steps into Health Care

Managed to get that raise or promotion? Fantastic -- now don't go out there and spend it all immediately. In classic "keeping up with the Joneses" fashion, too many of us see an increase in salary or a sudden windfall (like an inheritance) as an excuse to take our lifestyle up a notch. We buy bigger houses than we need, get the latest gadgets even though ours work just fine,and spring for fancy steak dinners just because we can.

​Instead, whenever your financial situation gets a boost, consider the best ways to put that money to work for you. The truly wealthy are those whose money continues to grow and earn them more, even when they're not actively doing anything with it.

The average American household that carries credit card debt holds a balance of around $15,000. If you're among those who have a credit card balance, you've probably seen the little chart on your monthly statement telling you how much you'll pay in interest over the next several years if you make only the minimum payment. (If you haven't, look at it.) The same chart will also compare that to a "suggested" payment that's slightly higher. 

​Our recommendation? Throw everything you can at paying your balances off as fast as possible. And make sure not to take on any additional debt in the future; if you can't pay for a consumer good out of pocket, don't finance it.
We don't demonize student loan debt the way we do credit card debt because we see an education as an investment -- and higher education often is the difference between one income bracket and another. Similarly, many people justify taking out a car loan by stating that they need a car to get to work.

​That said, debt is still debt, and the longer you take to pay it off, the more interest you'll pay. Once you've freed yourself of credit card debt, paying down your car and student loan balances should be next on your list.

Whether it's to handle an unexpected car repair, a sudden illness or a major plumbing problem, you should always have some money set aside to cover unforeseen expenses. Set up a regular monthly transfer from your checking to your savings account to earmark this money before you're tempted to touch it. If necessary, cut back in another budget category (like eating out or entertainment) to free up the funds to save more.

​Putting aside a little each month could prevent you from getting socked with a hefty bill you can't afford and then need to finance.

No matter your age, you should be adding to your retirement funds -- such as your 401(k) or individual retirement account -- each month. Just setting aside money sporadically won't cut it; you need to identify how much you'll need to live on once you stop working and monitor whether you're on track to reach that amount.

​Here's a quick-and-dirty rule of thumb: multiply your annual spending by 25. This is the amount you'll need in your retirement portfolio, if you assume that you'll withdraw 4 percent per year to live on during your retirement. In other words, you'd need $1 million in your portfolio to live on $40,000 annually. Creating a plan will help you make sure you're able to retire the way you envision.
A home is a big investment, and sometimes that investment doesn't wind up netting you the return you thought it would.

The biggest culprit is having too large a balance on your mortgage, which detracts from your own personal stake in the current market value for your home. The sooner you pay this amount down, the better your home equity will be.

​You also want to be careful when purchasing a new home. Buying in a neighborhood that's on the downward spiral or buying the most expensive home on the block, likely won't net you a good return when it's time to sell. Also take care to stay away from custom renovations (like turning the garage into a recreation room), which could negatively affect your resale value. 

Paying high investment fees eats away at your gains. And since your gains compound over time, this creates a domino effect that can really chip away at your wealth. Take a close look at your investment companies' fees and shop around to make sure they're not taking more of your money than they need to be.

If you don't have a long-term investment vision and are simply playing the market, you could seriously undermine your wealth-building potential. Stop paying attention to market fluctuations, media pundits and the stories of your friends and family. Instead, create your own long-term investment strategy that will maximize your overall returns. Resist the urge it play it ultra-conservative (or fall for get-rich-quick schemes) and educate yourself on the best way to make your dollars work for you.

​If you're having trouble making sense of your options or want a second opinion, seek the help of a trusted financial adviser.
Based on your experience and seniority level, education and industry, you should have a fairly good idea how much you ought to be making at your job. If you don't, check out a site like PayScale to get a ballpark figure.

If you're not making what you're worth, you're doing more than leaving money on the table; you're also losing all the compound growth and investment returns that money could be generating for you. Invest in yourself with professional development and continuing education, make the case for that raise or promotion, or seek out a company who will value you higher.

If you don't have proper insurance coverage, you're taking a very big risk that could come back to bite you. Too many people think the worst can't happen to them, but the hard truth is you can't predict the future, and scrimping on sufficient insurance is never a good idea.

Of all the things we're hesitate to part with our money for, adequate insurance coverage should not be one of them. No matter your age, everyone should be properly covered with:

  • Health insurance.
  • Disability insurance.
  • Homeowner's or renter's insurance.
  • Flood insurance (if you live in a flood-prone area).
  • Umbrella liability insurance (especially if you own a small business).

If a spouse or children relies on you for support, make sure you have a decent term life insurance policy, as well.

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