Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Does Foursquare have application in medicine or health care?

I'm an avid user of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I've been a late adopter of Foursquare but a few weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge and see if I could see whether it made any sense to try Foursquare. I often speak at conferences about social media, so it would only make sense for me to get on Foursquare and use it for a while. I have to admit that I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the things I've seen so far and I think I could make an argument that the medical and health care community could learn quite a bit from this rather simple social media app.

Here's how foursquare is described on their site:

foursquare makes the real world easier to use. We build tools that help you keep up with friends, discover what’s nearby, save money and unlock deals. Whether you’re setting off on a trip around the world, coordinating a night out with friends, or trying to pick out the best dish at your local restaurant, foursquare is the perfect companion.

Now, there are plenty of other apps that provide similar services. For instance, Facebook has the "check in" function. But, most people don't use Facebook to check in to places. On Foursquare, you can view who else is currently checked into a place. This can be both good and bad (it really depends on your comfort level with your personal privacy). When you check in using Foursquare, you're effectively telling the world (even though privacy settings can get adjusted).

So, here are a few ways that Foursquare could have application in medicine or health care:

1. Emergency medical assistance. With Foursquare, you can "check in" when you arrive at a place like a restaurant. Suppose you're at a restaurant and you happen to be a doctor. Would you be willing to "check in" and let others know that you're available to provide assistance if someone needs emergent medical care? What if you were on an airplane? A sporting event? A shopping center?

2. Medical conferences. What would happen if every conference attendee registered and virtually "checked in" using Foursquare? When we attend these huge medical conferences, wouldn't it be nice to know how you could get connected to people you may know? After all, your colleague from medical school may be at the same place and you would not know it unless you checked in and viewed the list of people who were there.

3. Points and Badges. On Foursquare, you'll notice that you can do things to earn points and to unlock new badges. You don't have to be a gamer to appreciate these simple gamification tactics that boost engagement and participation. There is something that drives human curiosity and competition: games. So, when you start using a brand new app and you notice points and badges, you pay more attention. These types of tactics could also be applied in medical and health apps to enhance engagement and participation if you use the right methods to reinforce behavior and motivate behavior modifications.

4. Personalized tips and suggestions. On Foursquare, users leave personalized tips and suggestions for each place they visit. Sometimes, the best medical advice comes from a patient who understands what life is like to have that disease. In general, I would not suggest patients to rely primarily on this type of advice. However, this is why we see so many patient blogs and patient communities providing beneficial support to new patients.

So, does it make sense for medical professionals to try Foursquare? Given that physicians tend to be very protective of their privacy, many already avoid Facebook (or they use an alias) because Facebook is just too personal. Similarly, foursquare brings that personal factor several steps closer (physically) and you probably won't be comfortable with the fact that it's simply too close for comfort. However, you may want to conduct a small social experiment before you attend your next major medical conference to see if any old colleagues pop up on that "check in" list.

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