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3/27/2012
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Walgreens' Facebook Site Adds Health Advice

Sharecare, made famous by Dr. Oz, now available via Walgreens' Facebook page.

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If you're one of the 2 million people who follow Walgreens on Facebook, you now have a new resource to answer your healthcare questions. Sharecare, which a press release calls an "expert question and answer online platform addressing health topics," now has a link on Walgreens' Facebook site. So you can launch Sharecare from Facebook and have access to what the company calls "the largest searchable drug, supplement, and wellness database on Facebook today."

Founded in October 2010 by WebMD founder Jeff Arnold and Mehmet Oz, M.D., the well-known heart surgeon, author, and TV personality, Sharecare presents healthcare content in the form of answers to questions about health and wellness, as well as the mechanics of the healthcare system. Its contributors include physicians and other licensed healthcare professionals, academic medical centers, and organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Association of Retired People.

Any healthcare professional who applies can become an "expert" on SharedCare. But many questions receive multiple answers, allowing users to pick and choose.

[ To find out which medical apps doctors and patients are turning to, see 9 Mobile Health Apps Worth A Closer Look. ]

Answers may come from books and popular patient education websites like Healthwise. When you click on the "more" link under the response, you may be given the opportunity to buy the book from which the answer was culled.

"We work with publishers and provide them with an opportunity to take a book and turn it into Q&As," Sharecare President Dawn Whaley told InformationWeek Healthcare. "In exchange for us publishing that information, we offer to sell the chapter or the book from which that information was derived."

Some clearly marked answers come from companies that specialize in particular areas of healthcare. For example, Whaley noted, "Dove is our skin-care partner; Pfizer answers questions on fibromyalgia; Colgate is our oral health partner; and Walgreens is our pharmacy partner. So they've already got a big footprint within the Sharecare environment."

Walgreens has been active on Sharecare since its inception. Besides having its pharmacists answer questions about medications, the big pharmacy chain has also expanded its "Walk With Walgreens" fitness campaign to SharecCare. So, in Whaley's view, it was a natural evolution for Walgreens to put Sharecare on its Facebook site. "It's really an extension of the partnership we already had in place."

Sharecare itself offers social networking features. For example, if a Sharecare visitor likes the answer that a particular physician gave to a question, she can "follow" that physician. "Every time we post something from that doctor, whether it's an answer or a blog post, you get that information pushed to your wall on Sharecare," Whaley noted.

In the near future, she added, Sharecare will add functionality that will allow you to ask specific questions of experts who are willing to go online in what she calls "a private conversation." That will bring Sharecare's approach closer to that of HealthTap, another online Q&A service that enables members to ask their own questions and receive answers from physicians.

To date, Sharecare has received several hundred thousand answers to its questions. The database is continuing to expand as contributors answer more of the firm's roughly 1 million queries, Whaley said.

Meanwhile, Walgreens is also expanding its online presence. Among other things, you can now "chat" online with Walgreen's pharmacists. Walgreens is also experimenting with in-store kiosks that let you order prescription refills. The chain will send you text messages when it's time for a refill, and you can request refills by scanning the bar code on a pill bottle with your smartphone.

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)

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