MedNetworks, Co-Founded by Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis, Aims to Tap Healthcare’s Hidden Social Networks

A Facebook dashboard might be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of social networks. Yet the next big thing in social networking might be technologies that enable businesses to benefit from a deep understanding of existing social networks rather than creating them from scratch like Facebook. Newton, MA-based MedNetworks, for one, is betting on this trend through software that seeks to harness the power of existing social networks in healthcare.

MedNetworks recently spun out of the lab of popular Harvard University professor Nicholas Christakis, who co-wrote the acclaimed book “Connected” and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people last year. The firm, which was incorporated in 2009, recently got off the ground with a $5 million Series A funding round from Boston-based Excel Venture Management announced in early August. Larry Miller—a physician and venture capitalist whose son introduced him to Christakis when his son was a sophomore at Harvard four and a half years ago—is the co-founder and chief executive of the company.

The startup takes a vastly different approach to the social networking business than some prior tech firms. For instance, the Cambridge, MA-based outfits PatientsLikeMe and Sermo have built online communities of people interested in healthcare for several years. MedNetworks, on the other hand, is developing software that maps and analyzes networks of people or clinicians that already exist. The plan is to then sell access to this social network mapping software to life sciences firms, employer-sponsored wellness plans, health plans, hospitals, and governments.

The company wants to enable its customers to use its deep understanding of the networks to improve the outcomes of, say, their efforts to market prescription drugs to doctors or boost the effectiveness of programs to get people to quit smoking. Its technology, not surprisingly, grew from Christakis’s academic studies, some of which have shown how the behavior of people in a network influence the health decisions of others in the network. We might even be making decisions, his work suggests, that are influenced by our friend’s friend’s friend, who we might not even know, Miller says.

In the medical field, a respected physician might have a greater influence on his colleague’s decisions on which drugs to prescribe than a study published in an academic journal. “It’s our thesis that these sources day to day are among the most powerful [influences] on … Next Page »

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