10 ways Facebook is embracing digital health

By Laura Lovett
Facebook in research

WhatsApp finds support among foreign doctors. In Argentina, Facebook owned WhatsApp is gaining steam. Argentinian ambulance doctors are using the app to fast track their patients’ care. An October 2017 study published in the Argentine Congress of Cardiology suggests that using the free messaging app to send diagnostic electocardiograms (ECGs) directly to a hospital’s catheterization lab allowed heart attack patients to bypass the emergency department and reduce mortality. 

Smoking Cessation groups. In May a study published by Addiction found that members of smoking cessation Facebook groups were more than 2.5 times more successful in quitting smoking than the controls over a three-month timeframe. However, after a year, those in the intervention group actually had lower rates of cessation than the control group. 

Peer caregiver support. Researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis developed a Facebook “friendsourcing” group that is designed to help people caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease connect. The project is funded by a $29,000 grant that comes from the Regenstrief Institute at IUPUI. In a small study published by the Journal of Technology in Human Services, the “friendsourcing” Facebook app helped decrease burden and perceived stress of unpaid Alzheimer's caregivers. 

Facebook-connected patients are happy patients. A study published by Surgery in December reported that liver transplant patients as well as their families were more engaged and satisfied when part of a Facebook group. 

Researchers created a Facebook group for liver transplant patients to use as a virtual community forum. Family members, caregivers, and healthcare providers were all able to participate in the group. In total, 350 users joined the group over the nine-month study. Of that, 50 percent were liver transplant patients, 36 percent were caregivers and friends, and 14 percent were healthcare providers. 

Applying AI to MRIs. The Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research group (FAIR) has teamed up with the NYU School of Medicine on a new project that could make magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans 10 times faster.

FAIR, founded in 2013, is a Facebook-affliated research group that partners with universities to study machine learning and artificial intelligence, often in areas with no direct connection to social networking. According to a Facebook blog post announcing the partnership, the research group was actively looking for a high-impact project, while the NYU School of Radiology's Center for Advanced Imaging Innovation and Research (CAI2R) was looking for additional AI expertise to actualize a theory the group has been investigating since 2016.

“[MRI scanners] are relatively slow, taking anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, compared with less than a second or up to a minute, respectively, for X-ray and CT scans. These long scan times can make MRI machines challenging for young children, as well as for people who are claustrophobic or for whom lying down is painful. Additionally, there are MRI shortages in many rural areas and in other countries with limited access, resulting in long scheduling backlogs. By boosting the speed of MRI scanners, we can make these devices accessible to a greater number of patients.”

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