Google vet Roni Zeiger leaves Smart Patients to head up Facebook's growing health efforts

The man who oversaw the rise and fall of Google Health will bring his expertise in patient communities to Menlo Park.
By Jonah Comstock
Share

Dr. Roni Zeiger, cofounder and CEO of Smart Patients and ex-chief health strategist at Google, is leaving his startup after seven years to join Facebook as the social network giant's Head of Health Strategy, a position Facebook appears to have newly created.

Zeiger quietly announced the news in a post on his own blog entitled "An Opportunity I Can’t Resist." Based on that short post, it appears that Facebook's recently launched Health Support Groups will be his main focus.

"With both sadness and excitement, I am leaving the wonderful team and communities at Smart Patients," Zeiger wrote. "I’m proud of what we’ve built over the last seven years and am confident the team will continue to do outstanding work. It’s been awesome to learn from the thousands of community members who support each other everyday with kindness and wisdom. As for what’s next, I’ll be joining Facebook as their new Head of Health Strategy, doubling down on my commitment to peer support. I can’t resist the opportunity to help improve Health Support Groups and the quality of health information across Facebook."

WHY IT MATTERS

Zeiger's name should be familiar to anyone who has been following the digital health space since its earliest days. As Google's chief health strategist from 2006 to 2012, he was at the reins throughout the rise and fall of Google Health, an ultimately ill-fated personal health record initiative that nonetheless taught the fledgeling digital health industry a lot about what could be done.

Zeiger's time at Google coincided with the search engine giant's first forays into healthwith his departure occuring shortly before the first reports of Google X, the experimental group that would eventually become Alphabet's life sciences arm Verily. It's not a stretch to say that Facebook's health efforts today are in a similar situation Google's efforts during Zeiger's tenure — testing the waters with a smattering of features that don't stray too far from their core competency.

In addition to his Google experience, of course, Zeiger has spent the last seven years at Smart Patients, a company focused on virtual patient communities. That experience will certainly be relevant to Facebook's Health Support Groups.

Smart Patients has been somewhat quiet since its 2013 launch, but has been plugging along, with 50 active patient communities as of 2017, when MedCityNews reported on the company's new partnership with the Colon Cancer Alliance.

WHAT'S THE TREND

This is only the latest move to reflect Facebook's growing interest in health. The company highlighted health when it launched the Health Support Groups feature at its F8 developer conference earlier this month. Just last week the company also launched some disease mapping tools designed to help public health officials track and manage outbreaks.

Other recent efforts have included its blood donation feature, which lets users sign up as a blood donor and receive notifications when blood banks near them are in need; efforts to combat vaccine misinformation on both its primary social media platform and Instagram; AI tools aimed at suicide prevention; and a campaign aimed at addressing the opioid crisis, with a feature causing any user searching for opioids to instead be redirected towards addiction support resources. 

ON THE RECORD

"Needless to say, there are tremendous challenges to address, as well as many opportunities for meaningful impact," Zeiger wrote. "I will tap into the power of community and collaboration to do my best, and look forward to collaborating with many of you along the way."