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Geolocate This

As health care providers continue to wonder whether and how they should add social media to their mix of communications tactics, new tools — and new uses for those tools — continue to sprout up.

I’m quoted in the current edition of American Medical News in a story that looks at the question of whether and how health care providers should use geolocation services (e.g., Foursquare, Gowalla) as additional channels through which they may communicate with patients, colleagues and referral sources — or through which they may encourage patients and others to communicate among themselves.

I’ve touched on this issue in recent presentations on health care social media, and have noted that even “checking in” on line at an STD clinic — an activity discounted by Mark Scrimshire in the article — is something that people will do for a badge — check out this fall’s MTV/Foursquare Get Yourself Tested campaign.  (Taking it to the next level, targeted sharing of STD test results is the idea behind start-up Qpid.me.)

Health care providers can leverage the general public’s interest in using geolocation services in a variety of ways.  In the the article, Chris Boyer notes that his health system works to ensure that check-in data (addresses and phone numbers drawn from other online services) for each service location is accurate, but doesn’t necessarily encourage check-ins.

There are no HIPAA issues raised by patients “checking in” on line, since it’s a voluntary act by the patient, and doesn’t really involve the provider.  Providers might decide to encourage check-ins (but not repeat visits — we want to keep people healthy, right?) as a way to drive patients to links to targeted health information, or even, perhaps, coupons for coffee or something (as long as we don’t bump up agianst limits on financial incentives … though I think that would not be an issue under most circumstances.

Physicians and other providers could be encouraged to use geolocation services in ways that could promote crowing about adoption of best practices (hat tip to Nick Dawson) or achieving success in meeting targets for quality measures — Be the first on your medical staff to become the mayor of the MRSA-free zone!  Get a badge for formulary compliance!

The possibilities are endless, and there are no deal-breaker regulatory restraints — folks just need to be cognizant of the guardrails.

How would you like to see geolocation services used in health care?

David Harlow writes at HealthBlawg::David Harlow’s Health Care Law Blog, a nationally-recognized health care law and policy blog. He is an attorney and lectures extensively on health law topics to attorneys and to health care providers. Prior to entering private practice, he served as Deputy General Counsel of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

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