Wherever You Go, There You Are: Geolocation in Hospital Social Media

flickr: St_A_Sh

My husband is the mayor of our wonderful local bookstore, Third Street Books. Oh, and he’s also the mayor of Oil Can Henry’s, the local library, Thai restaurant (yum!), aquatic center, Golden Valley Brew Pup, fabulous Red Fox Bakery, and our daughter’s Montessori school, among many others.

If you’re wondering why or how in the world my husband would have a random honorary position with local businesses, you’re probably not familiar with Foursquare, a geolocation app that allows people to check in just about anywhere. Users can earn mayoral statuses, badges and points (which can lead to free or discounted goodies) and leave reviews for the venue, whether a restaurant, retail store or, yes, hospital. Other geolocation apps are Gowalla and Brightkite, while Facebook Places and Google Places also draw on the idea of letting friends know where you are or finding recommended businesses based on location. One of my favorite apps, Instagram, lets you share beautiful pictures and offers you the option of revealing your location, which most of my friends do indeed choose to do.

Several healthcare writers have written about the implications of geolocation apps and health services, most notably health bloggers David Harlow, Nick Dawson, Ed Bennett and Nancy Cawley Jean. American Medical News also ran an article on geolocation services in December.

The main points from these writers are that:

1. HIPAA isn’t a problem for people “checking in” online, since, as David Harlow explains, it’s a voluntary act by the patient. However, it is always a good idea to point out to patients that any information shared online is not private.

2. Claim your Foursquare listing (hat tip Ed Bennett). This allows you to ensure your information is correct, create specials and access user data. Venue stats include total daily check-ins, most recent visitors, most frequent visitors, gender breakdowns, check-in time of day and the amount of check-ins that are fed to Twitter and Facebook. Those are some pretty great statistics to have right at your fingertips.

3. As with any social media site, monitor comments. Visitors can leave feedback without your permission and it’s Hive’s policy that it is always better to know what people are saying about you. Read more about dealing with negative comments here.

4. Be sensitive about how you use rewards in a hospital setting. In most cases (exceptions would be pregnant women or blood donors, for example), patients don’t want to be consistently visiting a clinic or hospital, since that indicates a health problem. Try and target healthy patients as much as possible, or other groups that would benefit from further building of what is already a regular relationship.

As with all social media, it’s best to be aware of places where people are discussing or referring to your hospital. Staying on top of geolocation is another way to stay in the game.

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