MyHealthTeams works with UCB on new spondyloarthritis-focused social network

By Jonah Comstock
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San Francisco-based MyHealthTeams has added its 28th disease-specific social network, and is working with Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB on an educational inititative related to the platform.

MySpondylitisTeam, the newest network, is aimed at patients with spondyloarthritis, a kind of arthritis which, unlike rheumatoid arthritis, tends to first present itself when patients are in their 20s and 30s. Spondyloarthritis encompasses several kinds of chronic and inflammatory arthritis that affect the spine, the pelvis, the joints, and the entheses, causing joint stiffness and pain.

“The common theme about all of these [social networks] is for people who have these diseases, seeing their doctor once a quarter or once every six months is just part of the equation, but they’re thinking about and living with this disease every minute they’re awake and all the times in between those doctor visits,” Eric Peacock, CEO of MyHealthTeams, told MobiHealthNews. “And there’s just so many other things, like what are the life hacks or ways you can manage your condition on a day-to-day basis, that cause them to want to be interacting with other people. And I think that’s something that the healthcare system’s just not set up to deliver. So when you build these social networks, particularly in something like spondyloarthritis that’s not as well known and not as well served, you tap into this really pent up demand of people saying ‘Where has this been all my life?’"

MyHealthTeams will work with UCB to bring unbranded educational resources both to members of the group and others on the MyHealthTeams network who might have undiagnosed spondyloarthritis.

“One of the big problems with this disease is it takes forever to get diagnosed because a lot of doctors seeing it don’t know what it is, and the earliest symptoms tend to be lower back pain in your 20s and 30s and so you tend to ignore it,” Peacock said. “So we’re just trying to do more education with them.”

MyHealthTeams networks are online communities accessible through the web or on mobile devices (Peacock says 65 to 70 percent of their traffic is mobile these days, and he expects that number to go up). They are password protected and patients often use pseudonyms, allowing them to have privacy about their health conditions while still finding social support.

For some of its older patient networks, MyHealthTeams is starting to reach the point where those networks can provide more value than just the social support for members.

“We have over 1.2 million members now, and when you look at these social networks, particularly the ones that have been around a couple years, we’re really starting to get to a critical mass,” Peacock said. “So if you take multiple sclerosis, one in six MS patients is on MyMSTeam, our social network for multiple sclerosis. That starts to allow you to do some really interesting things. We want to start to harness the mountains of data that our members are sharing on the social network and mine the gold of it. Pull out the wisdom of all that data for them, for payers, for providers.”

Social data, Peacock says, could be a strong source of real world evidence for payers, providers, and pharma companies — both to learn about their own drugs and those of competitors. But for now, UCB’s interest is broader.

“UCB is a very mission-driven business and they’re focused on delivering solutions for the people living with the diseases they treat, like spondyloarthritis, like epilepsy, like Parkinson’s,” Peacock said. “They bring a certain level of clinical medical expertise. So when we partner with them it’s really about bringing the information — what should you know about this disease, what types of questions should you ask your doctor about it, what are things you could be doing now to preserve your longer-term health. It’s not about selling the drug, it’s about things that go around the drug. There’s a lot more to healthcare than just the medicine and I think UCB’s figured that out.”