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Wellsource Blog

How Do Health Risk Assessments Compare to Facebook Preventive Health?

Written by Wellsource, Inc.

December 27, 2019

Facebook created some buzz in the health and wellness sector earlier this year when they announced they’d be rolling out Preventive Health, a tool that would make health recommendations to users. The product, which has been available to U.S. users since October 2019, bases recommendations off the data Facebook has readily available: age and gender. However, this tool is quite different from a traditional health risk assessment (HRA) and shouldn’t necessarily be relied on as a stand-in for routine medical care.

In this post we’ll take a look at what exactly Facebook Preventive Health is, how it’s different from an HRA, and which tool is best suited to your population’s needs. Keep reading!

What Is Facebook Preventive Health?


A few years ago, Facebook decided to throw their hat into the health care ring. They did this by first helping to promote local blood drives in India—a feature that is now available world-wide. Now they’re getting into the market of focusing on an individual’s health. While the Internet is awash in health tools and resources, the Facebook Preventive Health tool is simple. It is not a symptom checker and won’t help an individual determine if they should schedule an appointment with their doctor or call 911. Instead, it simply looks at their Facebook profile gender and birth date and sends out a generic reminder for screenings or vaccinations based on that information.

This could cause some confusion among users, however. Since Facebook’s tool is not in any way connected to a user’s health data, it wouldn’t know if someone has reported a valid birth date, if the person is biologically the gender with which they identify, or whether the person has already completed these types of screenings (unless the individual chooses to track that information with the app). A reminder to schedule a colonoscopy for someone who recently had one could be confusing if they don’t realize they’re just being served a generic reminder based on their birth date.

How Is Facebook Preventive Health Different from an HRA?

A tool that reminds individuals to schedule important preventive care, such as colorectal cancer screenings or flu shots, can be invaluable. And that’s exactly what Preventive Health does. But what it doesn’t do that an HRA and routine medical care will, is take into account an individual’s health and lifestyle to predict an individual’s risk for future health problems such as heart attack or cancer. For example, an individual with indications of being high risk may be advised by their doctor to begin screenings earlier. Similarly, an HRA would point them in a similar direction by telling them that they’re at high risk based on health history and personal habits. Someone relying strictly on Preventive Health’s reminder feature may not begin the process of scheduling their routine screening until years after it may have been otherwise recommended for their unique situation. And, they could miss out on essential guidance to help them improve their lifestyle in ways that can prevent the onset of a chronic disease.

Should I use a health risk assessment or Facebook Preventive Health for Population Health Management?

When it comes to preventive health some action is better than absolutely no action at all. In that case, Facebook’s tool is a great step forward for individuals who may not even realize that they should be scheduling screenings. However, a health risk assessment is a much more comprehensive option for organizations looking to encourage their population to live an overall healthier lifestyle and take charge of their care options. Additionally, an HRA gives health and wellness professionals important data to help them plan initiatives to keep their populations healthy—something Facebook Preventive Health doesn’t do. Still, the Facebook tool is still a great one to keep in their back pocket even for individuals who have completed an HRA and are armed with a list of interventions and resources. With 1.62 billion people logging into Facebook every day and therefore potentially being reminded to look into screenings, vaccinations, or other interventions they may not be aware of, the tool could help make an impact on driving screening and vaccination rates up.

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Don Hall, DrPH, CHES, Founder Wellsource