Since the advent of social networking, people have found new ways to meet and connect with like-minded people. So far we have seen social networks for business, music, and so forth. So why not for chronic diseases?
In the newest Emerging Health Technology Spotlight, we hear from Eric Peacock, Co-founder and CEO, of MyHealthTeams. Read on to find out more from Eric about his company’s social network network for chronic diseases.
HTI: Can you tell me a little bit about MyHealthTeams?
Eric: MyHealthTeams creates social networks for chronic disease communities. To give you an example our first social network is called My Autism Team. It’s a social network for parents of kids with autism. When you or your child is diagnosed with autism it should be easy to find the best people around to help you. That is what we do.
HTI: When did you get started and what led you and your team to create a chronic disease social network?
Eric: We got started last year. We launched MyAutismTeam in June of 2011. We started with 30 parents in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the last year it has taken off. There are now over 31,000 registered parents of kids with autism on My Autism Team.
What got us interested is this is that right now 1 in 2 Americans suffer from a chronic condition or disease. There are about 160 million Americans living with a chronic condition right now. Estimates project that in 10 years time it will be north of 200 million. We started researching it and just found that this part of the market is really under-served on the web. That is why we decided to come out in the way we that did.
HTI: What types of benefits have users gotten from using this social network?
Eric: One of the first things someone does when diagnosed with a chronic condition is to do a lot of Google research to find out more about the disease. Parent of kids with autism go online to more about is autism, what treatments are currently available, and what types of research is being done about autism. As a parent, you have this basic instinct to find other parents who have been in your shoes and learn from them so you do not reinvent the wheel. We found that before we released MyAutismTeam parents in these situations found that it was really hard to find the other people around them who had similar experiences.
People come to the site to meet other parents of kids with autism. They also meet parents of kids with autism who may have the same diagnosis and the same developmental needs as their child – even if that family is a thousand miles away. Our social network allows you to really build relationships with people you have a lot in common with while providing the opportunity to share tips and ideas and even referrals to local providers.
HTI: At what point does it make sense to join one of these social networks?
Eric: Any person or parent of a kid with autism should join this site. They will find other parents, learn from them, and not feel alone. Your child could have been diagnosed yesterday or you could be someone whose child has been diagnosed for the last 10 years.
HTI: Talk a little bit around MyHealthTeams social networks, are there separate networks for each condition?
Eric: Yes. The idea here is that we launch a social network specifically for each condition or disease. It’s not like you go to one site and pick from a list of diseases. You go to My Autism Team to connect with other parents of kids with autism. Last month we launched a new one for women with breast cancer – MyBreastCancerTeam. That is totally separate.
HTI: One of the features on a MyHealthTeams site is a search feature. What other features are included in the social network?
Eric: Other features include:
Find Parents: This feature allows you to search for other parents. You can type in a city and state or you could filter that by the child’s age, diagnosis, and so forth.
The Wall: Every person who joined has a wall just like you would on Facebook. It is a place where you can post updates and connect with others. You can post messages, give hugs, or send a like or add a comment.
With a condition specific social networking site, parents can share, communicate, and learn with people who know what they are going through. That is a big part of what people use this for.
Team: A team is composed of all the people that you have assembled to help you and your child as you go through life on the autism spectrum. This includes two types of people. It is kind of like Twitter, in that you can follow people. In MyAutismTeam you can meet people and add them to your team and easily stay in touch with all of them.
Providers: On the providers page, you can see providers that a user recommends personally. Let’s say you are a parent in the Everest, Washington area. You can locate providers who other parents recommend. This is gold because now you have somebody recommending a family practice doctor, an ophthalmologist, a physical therapist and a pediatrician.
This is where the Yelp part of this site comes in because what we are doing is essentially we are combining Facebook with Yelp for this community. If you click on a listing you can see information like the insurance they accept and so forth. You can also find out whether this person is recommended by another person on this site. It is a good way to find providers.
Q&A: This is where you can ask any question you like. Over thousand questions have been asked and 95% have been answered. This is just another way to get specific information.
One of the questions I get is that how are you different from everything else that is out there. A lot of the other health-related sites are just Q&A sites or just discussion forums. Q&A sites on their own are not really useful because they promote anonymity. You can just ask a question but you have no idea who the person is behind the answers you are getting. On a MyHealthTeams site you can read other people’s stories, see their backgrounds, and understand what they are going through on a day by day basis. Because of this the quality of answers you are getting in Q&As is phenomenal.
HTI: I noticed on the top row there is one more which is “pinboard”. What is that?
Eric: We found our users really liked to share photos and maybe their favorite recipes, links, or what have you. The pinboard is kind of like Pinterest. It is a way for you to share things in categories.
Our basic belief is that it should be easy to find the best people around to help you. We have heard from so many parents that often times the best advice comes from it is other parents who have been in their shoes. We are doing everything we can do to make it easy for you to find other people who are in your shoes.
HTI: I read recently that you released a mobile app. How does it improve on the current web platform?
Eric: People are constantly posting on each other’s walls and engaging back and forth just like you would on Facebook. The challenge we were facing was that these are parents of kids who have autism. They spend a big chunk of their day in a car driving their kids to their appointments and sitting in waiting rooms. The iPhone app just allows them to continue to make posts, comment on other people’s posts, and even use the camera feature on their phone to automatically post photos from wherever they are. It really just extends the functionality of the website and allow people to use it on the go.
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