I think it's safe to say health is one of our big national obsessions, if not the biggest, and it's also an obvious area of interest for social media: patients can share information, advice, and moral support with each other, doctors are curious about how to use social media to share information with patients and network professionally, and insurance companies are turning to social media for marketing and customer service.
But I would also hazard a guess that most people don't want to ask questions or share sensitive information about their medical conditions or histories on "general interest" social media sites like Facebook. And that may explain the success of a site like MedHelp.org, which has grown from about one million unique visitors per month at the end of 2006 to over 12.5 million uniques per month at the end of 2010, according to COO Richy Glassberg.
MedHelp.org, which started as a non-profit discussion board back in 1994, but went to a for-profit, ad-supported model several years ago, has evolved along with social media to include a compendium of user-generated content about over 300 disease conditions, along with online resource guides, interactive tools and trackers, a map updated with health-related information in real time, and of course the discussion forums which started it all.
Through partnerships with seven out of the ten best hospitals in the country (including Johns Hopkins, Cornell Weill, the Cleveland Clinic, and Brigham Women's) the site also offers users the opportunity to ask questions which are answered by leading doctors in 24-48 hours. Noting that the site is one of the few to offer doctors liability insurance covering their Q&A's, Glassberg boasts that "on any given day we have 150 active doctor forums."
The site has also created a series of mobile apps including a dietary health tracker called MyDietDiary (ranked the most popular healthcare app in Europe for two months last year), a pregnancy app, a sleep tracker, and a mental health app for tracking moods called "Moody Me." Over the last 15 months, Glassberg said the proportion of traffic arriving via mobile devices has increased from 3% to 18%.