Facebook Prescribes a Preventive Health Tool in the U.S.

The social network initially focused on heart disease and cancer

Checkups and tests are recommended by health organizations Facebook is working with Facebook

Average revenue per user tends to drop when users pass away, so Facebook is taking steps to keep them around longer with its debut of a preventive health tool in the U.S. Monday.


Facebook head of healthcare research Freddy Abnousi said in a Newsroom post that the social network is working with health organizations in the U.S. on the tool, initially focusing on the two leading causes of death in the country: heart disease and cancer.

The resources available in the tool as it debuts are provided by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Starting Monday, people in the U.S. can search for preventive health in Facebook’s flagship mobile application in order to find out which checkups are recommended by the health organizations the social network is working with, based on age and gender, such as cholesterol tests or mammograms.


In addition, reminders for flu shots will appear at the appropriate time of year.


Facebook’s preventive health tool enables users to mark when tests are completed, set reminders to schedule future tests and alert friends and family about the availability of the tool.


Abnousi wrote, “Most of the preventive measures recommended by the health organizations we’re working with, such as blood pressure tests, are free of charge with insurance coverage, but we know many people do not have insurance. To help people get affordable care, preventive health offers a way to find Federally Qualified Health Centers near them. These centers are located in underserved areas and provide care to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. People can also use preventive health to find convenient locations that offer flu shots, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and urgent care clinics.”

He added that Facebook plans to work with more organizations over time in order to include more resources, as well as to expand the preventive health tool outside of the U.S.

Facebook also sought to address privacy concerns in a separate Newsroom post by vice president and chief privacy officer, public policy Erin Egan.

She wrote that users’ activity within the preventive health tool will not be posted publicly or shared with other people, with that information restricted to a group of people at Facebook who work on the product or maintain the social network’s systems.

Information will not be shared with third parties, such as health organizations or insurance companies, meaning that people do not have to worry about activity in the preventive health tool affecting their insurance eligibility.

And while the preventive health tool can be used to set reminders for checkups and tests, Facebook will not have access to those results.

Sharing the tool with friends or family to encourage them to try it will not share people’s activities within the tool.


As far as finding Federally Qualified Health Centers, people with Facebook’s location services turned on will be directed to facilities in their area. Otherwise, the social network will default to locations based on users’ current cities.


The preventive health tool used the age and gender in people’s profiles to suggest checkups recommended by health organizations, but those can be changed within the tool.

Egan wrote, “To help you keep track of your checkups, we collect information you provide, such as when you set reminders or mark a screening as done. We also log more general activity, like frequency of clicks for a specific button, which allows us to understand how the tool is being used, in order to improve it over time.”

She concluded, “We don’t show ads based on the information you provide in preventive health—that includes things like setting a reminder for a test, marking it as done or searching for a healthcare location. As always, other actions that you take on Facebook could inform the ads you see—for example, liking the Facebook page of a health organization or visiting an external website linked to from preventive health.”

American College of Cardiology president Richard Kovacs said in the main Newsroom post, “Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women around the world and, in many cases, it is 100% preventable. By incorporating prevention reminders into platforms people are accessing every day, we’re giving people the tools they need to be proactive about their heart health.”

American Heart Association chief medical officer Eduardo Sanchez added, “We’ve contributed our content and resources to the Facebook preventive health tool to empower Americans to take the first step to know about and take action to lower blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, each of which has been shown to increase the chance of a longer, healthier life and reduce the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke.”

American Cancer Society chief cancer control officer Richard Wender said, “One of the main reasons people don’t get screened for cancer is that they don’t realize their own risk. We hope this program will help by building awareness about important recommendations from expert organizations.”

And Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, added, “Flu vaccines can have wide-ranging benefits beyond just preventing the disease, such as reducing the risk of hospitalization, preventing serious medical events for some people with chronic diseases and protecting women during and after pregnancy. New tools like this will empower users with instant access to information and resources they need to become a flu fighter in their own communities.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.