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November 18, 2013

Does Silicon Valley Have the Answer to Living Healthier?

Nicole Hemsoth

Silicon Valley has produced some amazing advances that have solved problems and significantly improved the lives of people around the globe. So why haven’t they fixed healthcare, asks Dr. Sreedhar Potarazu, a physician turned entrepreneur.

“It is ironic that with the billions of dollars of innovation and success that have been created around these behemoths in the industry that have done wonders for engaging the consumer in so many aspects of their life,” said Potarazu in a recent webcast titled Why Did Google and Facebook Miss the Boat on Healthcare? “None of these vehicles today have been able to convert their success in terms of how they bring together billions of consumers every day, in terms in driving health engagement, and consumer engagement in health, and one has to ask, why?”

While on one level, it seems like an unfair question. Google and Facebook have done quite well in engaging people across virtually every discipline through their respective tools. But both have either failed, or refused to take on healthcare, says Dr. Potarazu, who spent 20 years as a physician. He shares some statistics that might be surprising:

  • 1 in 5 people use Facebook to make Health Decisions
  • More people use Facebook for health info before face time with a physician
  • 41% use social media sites to look for health information. Of those, nearly 95% said Facebook was their site of choice.

As a physician, Potarazu says these statistics are staggering. “No matter how much data we actually had, it’s extremely difficult to engage the consumer as an active participant in wanting to take care of their health,” he laments. “The one thing that we failed to cure is boredom. That’s the fundamental challenge in getting people to stay committed.”

For his part, Potarazu launched a company called WellZone which aims at leveraging new (mobile and social) media, combined with big data for the purposes of using that data to engage people in their health in the way that Facebook has managed to engage people socially. “Facebook is not a social media company. Facebook is a data company that uses data to drive engagement and socialization,” he says.

With WellZone Potarazu hopes to capitalize on the same equation, only applied towards health. It’s a social network centered around health, where people connect with friends and celebrities and either take on challenges – or make them. Here’s a video that gives an outlay of the program:

During his talk, Potarazu explained that getting the motivation right is the key to engaging people in their health. He explains that content, combined with fun, layered on top with financial rewards – all of which is wrapped up and leveraged by data, is the key to making it all work.

“The convergence of big data and new media is the holy grail for healthcare,” he says, explaining that he sees a very bright future for social fitness and how the data it generates can be utilized. “The reality is that there is so much that is potentially available to really drive forth what I envision as the healthcare consumer in 2020 that is able to pull together all of the key elements of their day to day progress and be able to proactively have that linked in terms of driving an entertaining and engaging experience that keeps the individual in the game and keeps them from being bored.”

Can it work? As someone who has used fitness and diet tracking apps before, I’m skeptical. The constant data entry can be tedious, tracking every grape or sneaky chocolate chip. But then, I’ve never had a financial incentive, say a month discount on my health insurance, to keep the motivation factor high (and that’s without mentioning the social incentive, all of which sounds interesting).

Then again, with the emergence of the Internet of Things presently happening, maybe that data entry gets largely automated. One can dream.

For those interested, Potarazu’s webcast can be viewed here.

Related items:

Big Data for the Common Good 

Can Big Data Tame MRSA Superbugs? 

Gartner: Internet of Things Plus Big Data Transforming the World 

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