Facebook Graph Search in Medicine

Everyone has heard about the new Graph Search function on Facebook. It says “Want to start a book club or find a gym buddy? Connect with friends who like the same activities—and meet new people, too.” It will let Facebook users do searches by choosing different parameters (e.g. who goes to the same gym as me and is single).

Well, many bloggers are optimistic about this launch and think it will be used in medicine too. I don’t think so and everyone should hope I’ll be right. It’s fun to identify friends in my community who I share the same multiple interests with (e.g. sci-fi and reading books), but the same concept in medicine just should not work. Here are examples what Michael Spitz came up with:

  • “What do my friends think about HIV?”
  • “Do any of my friends have erectile dysfunction?”
  • “Have any of my friends had a bad reaction to taking Drug X?”
  • “What do you think about Dr. Y?”
  • “How was your stay at hospital Z?”

Only a minority of Facebook users would add the medical conditions they have to their profile; or publish a post about a side effect of a new drug they are taking. As such data would not be added to Facebook, it will not be used for search. Moreover, if Facebook makes it clear to my friends which gym I go to, that’s OK as far as this is within the privacy borders I set; but making clear which conditions I have or which drugs I take is just not the function I expect from a social networking site.

WolframAlpha works fine because data are added in a professional, anonymous and structured way. See all the medical examples they have.


There are other platforms such as Yandex Wonder doing the same as Facebook Graph but in a much better quality and with much more data (its access to Facebook was blocked when Facebook Graph was released, what a “coincidence”). But it still might not be used for medical purposes.

[vimeo 57837929]

So expect to see this kind of search engines in the near future, but hopefully this new feature will not breach the privacy of patients and doctors on Facebook.