Friday, May 4, 2012

USA - Does Privacy Still Matter?


Consumers say that they are concerned about privacy, but their actions say otherwise.

Who would have guessed that the Illinois DMV — really, any DMV — would be more progressive than Facebook? I renewed my driver's license last week and, with the stroke of an arcane pen to an arcane piece of paper, gave notice that I'm an organ donor.

As you may have heard, Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday revealed a new Facebook status update: organ donor. Facebook trailing the DMV? Really? What's next, Facebook making people take a virtual number and stand in a seemingly endless line until you can "like" something?

Now, I am not making light of the monumental impact that Facebook's announcement could have — really, is having. According to various news reports, by the end of Tuesday, "6,000 people had enrolled through 22 state registries, according to Donate Life America, which promotes donations and is working with Facebook. On a normal day, those states together see less than 400 sign up."

Organ donation is a serious issue and deserves greater attention from all of us. The publicity generated by Zuckerberg's announcement can only help those 114,236 people waiting for an organ and may, just may, save one of the 18 people who will die today because they were on that list.

The fact that so many people responded so quickly to the Facebook announcement shouldn't really surprise anyone. For an ever-growing segment of the population, Facebook and other social media are their primary means of communicating, and health status is one of the main updates. Roughly one-third of adult consumers now use social media to discuss health-related issues, according to a recent PwC Health Research Institute survey.

Among the key findings: 42 percent said they've used social media to access health-related consumer reviews and 25 percent have posted about their health experience.

Lest you still think this is just some consumer fad and won't impact hospitals and other providers, take note that some major players are figuring out new ways to tap into the social media craze. 


At HIMSS last February, Aetna CEO and President, Mark T. Bertolini discussed new apps that the company is developing to let members do Facebook-like searches on doctors. Some health systems are reportedly developing apps that will let patients share physician profiles with their Facebook friends. Others are sure to follow.

But here's the disconnect for me: "Privacy and security are top consumer concerns when sharing their health information through social media. Consumers are most concerned with personal health information being shared in public (63 percent) and information on social media being hacked or leaked (57 percent)," the PwC report notes.

So, security and privacy are a top concern, yet people are more than willing to share incredibly personal details about their health status with 700 of their closest "friends." We all have one or more of those friends. You know, the ones who post basically post a direct transcript from their most recent visit to the doctor.

As Zuckerberg so poetically stated a couple of years ago, privacy is "no longer a social norm." The challenge, it seems, for the health care industry, is how to navigate this landscape that seems to change in the blink of eye.

Matthew Weinstock
H&HN Senior Editor

The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of Health Forum Inc. or the American Hospital Association.

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