By Jenn Riggle
The question I have to ask: Does Foursquare make sense for healthcare?
To answer this question, I employed the tried and true method – I created a pros and cons list.
Customer Relationship Management
In the consumer sector, companies like Starbucks, Pepsi and Macy’s are using Foursquare as a virtual loyalty-card program, while others are offering discounts or other rewards for shopping. They also use Foursquare to see who’s coming to their stores, how often they’re coming and offering special coupons or discounts to people who visit. Hospitals could definitely benefit from creating customer loyalty programs. For example, this type of program might be great for “happy” hospital visits, such as pre-natal check-ups or childbirth education classes.
Promoting Wellness Programs
A great way to use Foursquare is to have people check in when they visit the gym, physical therapist or the health food store. So in addition to people earning their “Gym Rat” badge or becoming mayor of their gym, they could find other people who share similar interests and help develop a virtual community. Foursquare could also work in sync with Twitter fitness hashtags like the #TwitFit or #Twit2Fit.
Social Media Leadership
Hospitals are continually looking for new ways to distinguish themselves from their competition, whether it’s by highlighting their emergency department wait times or promoting their quality and HCAHPS scores. Being the first health system in their community to implement Foursquare could help position a hospital as the technology leader.
Integration with Health Resources
There is potential synergy with services like Google Health, Facebook and Twitter. Foursquare even has the potential to impact new services like 23andMe, a personal genomics and biotech company that claims to help people understand their genetic information. The benefit about this type of integration is that it might provide doctors with information about where they have gone and how environmental factors may impact their health.
The Privacy Question
Lawyers and hospital executives stay awake at night worrying about social media and the possibility of violating Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. And while more and more hospitals are convincing their lawyers that the sky won’t fall if they create a Facebook page, Foursquare adds yet another layer to the privacy question.
Denton Gentry touched on some of these issues in his Coding Relic blog when he wrote about his concerns when he receive an update that one of his friends checked into the local children’s hospital:
“A check-in notification is devoid of context; there was no indication if it was routine or emergency. Certainly if one had just rushed a child to the hospital one wouldn’t bother checking in… but what about hours later? What about an extended stay, after initial panic subsides? Where detail is lacking, the mind fills in possibilities.”
But do hospitals want to arouse these types of questions? Hospitals have always been committed to protecting patients’ privacy. Yet when patients send online updates about when they visit the hospital, they’re throwing away their privacy and creating questions in people’s mind. That’s why it’s a lot easier for Foursquare to be used with health and wellness programs – the reasons why people visit are understood.
Limited Hospital Resources
While hospitals are beginning to engage on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they have limited social media resources. More often than not, social media is just one of the tasks the marketing/public relations staff is trying to do. Rather than trying to spread themselves too thin and engage in too many social media platforms on a limited basis, it’s better to engage and build strong communities in one of two of these platforms.
Since it’s already clear that there are audiences on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, it makes sense that hospitals focus their efforts there. Foursquare is still a young platform. And while it has generated a lot of buzz, it still hasn’t reached critical mass. When Foursquare becomes mainstream, hospitals will want to incorporate it into their marketing plans.
Hospitals are Risk Averse
Hospitals aren’t known for taking a lot of risks. So before they engage in social media projects, they typically run it by their lawyers, who are even more cautious. In addition, the thought that hospitals could develop marketing plans that could be derailed by Foursquare’s acquisition could make them even more cautious.
Geolocation Market Is In Its Infancy
Right now, the geo-location market reminds me a little of the video industry in the 1970s during the Betamax vs. VHS format war. While Betamax may have been the technically superior format, a number of factors resulted in VHS becoming the dominant format – at least until digital technology made it obsolete.
The same is true with the geo-location industry today. Right now, there are a lot of players vying to be the leader in geo-location space and it remains to be seen who will win. And while Foursquare has the early lead, in the end, the company with the deepest pockets wins. You also have to wonder whether Foursquare will be an acquisition target and eventually be integrated into a larger service.
Edward Boches wrote about SeeMyOp.com, a new social network being developed that takes the live-tweeting during surgery to the next level. SeeMyOp.com is intended to be the first social network site that lets members stream live video from surgical scopes and instruments used during their surgical procedures. People can view the video from SeeMyOp.com’s site over Twitter and Facebook. I’m sure this will give lawyers another reason not to sleep at night.
From my perspective, the timing isn’t right for hospitals to adopt Foursquare. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.