Facebook is looking for a way to make healthcare a part of the social media site by creating online “support communities” that would connect Facebook users suffering from various ailments.

According to Reuters, a small team is also considering new “preventative care” applications that would help people improve their lifestyles.

According to unnamed sources, over the past few months Facebook has been holding meetings with medical industry experts and entrepreneurs, and is setting up a research and development unit to test new health apps.

Healthcare recently became an interest for Facebook executives when they realised healthcare could work as a tool to increase engagement with the site.

One catalyst was the unexpected success of Facebook’s 2012 “organ-donor status initiative.” The day that Facebook altered profile pages to allow members to specify their organ donor-status, 13,054 people registered to be organ donors online in the US, a 21 fold increase over the daily average of 616 registrations, according to a June 2013 study published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Facebook product teams also noticed that people with chronic ailments, such as diabetes, would search the social networking site for advice. The popularity of patient networks, such as PatientsLikeMe and even the local services offered by FOLUP, demonstrate that people are increasingly comfortable sharing symptoms and treatment experiences online.

Facebook already has a few ideas to alleviate privacy concerns around its health initiatives, which according to a source, includes the possibility of rolling out its first health application quietly and under a different name. Market research commissioned by Facebook found that many of its users were unaware that photo-service Instagram is Facebook-owned.

Facebook’s recent softening of its policy requiring users to go by their real names may also reinforce the company’s health plans, as people with chronic conditions may prefer to use an alias when sharing their health experiences.

It remains unclear whether Facebook will moderate or curate the content shared in the support communities, or bring in outside medical experts to provide context.

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