Foursquare for Medical Practices

As most of you probably know, I’m a huge fan of technology and it’s also fair to say that I’m a pretty early adopter of social media. In fact, I’m sure that some of you think that I live on social media. I prefer to just say that I’m active in social media. Despite my love and participation in social media, I must admit that I’ve never really been able to get into the love of Foursquare.

For those that don’t know much about Foursquare, it’s an app on your phone where you can check in to specific locations and you can see which locations your friends, family and colleagues have checked into as well. As you check in, you get rewards for checking in and virtual awards such as badges. Plus, if you check in to a certain location enough times, then you become Mayor of that location. Foursquare is far from the only one in this space, but it is definitely the leader and the originator of the space. Although, don’t be surprised if Facebook Places doesn’t give them a good run for their money.

My personal problems with Foursquare is that at least on my cell phone it’s clunky to use, hard to understand and the data gets outdated so quickly that I don’t find it that useful. I’m sure that part of my problem with Foursquare is that I don’t have enough real friends and colleagues on there to really get the benefit of knowing what everyone’s doing and where they’re at. Yes, the idea of sharing and other people knowing this information is scary, but it turns out to be a really cool thing if done right. I know since I often learn where someone is at during a conference by seeing tweets from them.

Considering my lack of adoption of Foursquare, I was of course intrigued by this article talking about why medical practices should be on Foursquare. Here are the main reasons they offer:
1. It’s easy to use.
2. It’s big, and getting bigger.
3. It’s a search engine and a way of being found when people are looking for a doctor.
4. If you don’t claim your place, someone else is likely to do it for you.
5. It says your medical practice is social and tech savvy.

Obviously I disagree with the first one, but that might be my bias. Maybe it’s so easy to use that it’s useless to me. My bias aside, I actually agree with this article that a medical practice should take the 5 minutes it takes to get their practice listed on Foursquare. I’m not suggesting that a doctor or medical practice should become really active on Foursquare. Instead, I’m just saying they should sign up and claim their spot on Foursquare. Then, you get to control your listing as opposed to one of your patients which adds your office for you.

A comment in the above article makes a really good point too. If you want to be active in social media and reach the typical visitors to doctors offices that tend to skew female and older, you probably should be on Twitter and Facebook, not Foursquare. Yelp is another good recommendation for many cities. Lots more could be said about those three services. If people are interested, then we’ll cover those in future posts.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • It is an interesting choice/dilemma. I regularly use all of the social media platforms mentioned, but hesitate when it comes to “personal” activity (trips to the Dr., etc.). With my job, I’m visiting physician’s offices and hospitals regularly… I once checked in at a hospital and received a few comments from friends making sure everything is ok.

    Yelp is an interesting beast… I’ve used it to research local physicians, dentists, etc. but users need to know that reviews need to be taken with a grain (or two) of salt. I’ve read 2 star reviews that basically have glowing remarks for the physician, but since the front desk made them wait 10 minutes, or forgot to validate parking, etc. they physician gets “dinged” in their review. One also doesn’t need to even visit the physician to write a review. I’ve noticed a couple reviews with low stars complaining that the physician can’t see them for a few weeks (new patient). These have nothing to do with the actual care received by the physician… although repeated similar comments can give you good insight as to what to expect if you book an appointment.

    I’ll still continue to use the apps, but regulate when/where and how I use the information that is available.

  • steve,
    I agree with the choice. However, many patients likely won’t think about the choice. They’ll just check in and think about the consequences later.

    Thanks for the additional info on Yelp. Definitely worth taking the reviews with a grain of salt.

  • With my internet marketing hat on – yes, Foursquare (and Google & Facebook for that matter) all have the advantages mentioned above.

    With my HIPAA compliance consultant hat on, I am strongly against anything like this.

    The prime focus of HIPAA is privacy.

    Foursquare et al are the polar opposite.

    It does not make sense to me for a practice to preach privacy…then ask/make it advantageous for a patient to give up their privacy (in a way that benefits the practice).

    I am aware that my HIPAA compliance views are very conservative, but my job is to reduce risk to the practice.

    Besides, the fact that I just had a physical, or colon screening is really not of interest to most people. I am aware of this fact and am under no illusion that people actually care. So “checking in” at a physician (much less anywhere) is not something I do.

    Question – How many visits to a doc office does it take to become mayor on Foursquare??

  • John Brewer,
    How does a doctor having their name listed on Foursquare hurt any HIPAA compliance? That’s like saying that by having your clinic listed in a Google search means they are at risk for HIPAA compliance.

    Being active on Foursquare and encouraging your patients to use Foursquare is a different issue and could have HIPAA implications if you’re not careful. Although, even then it’s pretty minimal if you’re careful.

    I won’t be checking in at my physician, but many will.

    It’s a good question about mayor. I haven’t figured out the algorithm, but it does depend on how many others have checked in as well.

  • My point is this:
    If HIPAA is all about privacy, then blasting to “everyone” that you are at the doc ruins the privacy.

    It is very simple.

    No, it is not the docs fault if someone does this…
    the doc encourages this kind of activity (which is the “proper” way to use this type of marketing (Google Places placard for check for instance))…
    then that is a potential risk to the doc.

    Again, I reduce risk to docs…this is a potential risk.

  • It seems like the key difference is how we think the “proper” way to use this type of marketing is. I’d only suggest the doctor be listed, not that they encourage the activity. They should just capitalize on those that choose to do that activity on their own.

  • One can make a valid argument that a physician creating an account on Foursquare is solely an attempt to make it easier to be found via a smart phone.

    My point is this:
    We are in a society where somebody can sue for spilling hot coffee on them which then pushed the need for coffee cups to have a warning on them that the contents is hot…then a physician needs to be concerned about what may be an implied endorsement.

    It is stupid, yes.

    But feel free to look through all the stupid malpractice lawsuits out there.

    This is risk reduction.

    Like I said before, I’m ultra conservative on HIPAA and risk reduction…I set the bar very high.

    I fully understand there are my recommendations…then there is reality.

  • I suppose as an avid Foursquare user and a Privacy Specialist in a hospital I can see it both ways. I “check in” at the hospital, but if I were to go to my doctors office I am not sure I would as then people would know I am at the doctors office, it does open doors to privacy matters. Incentives for people checking-in, not worth people’s privacy.

    As for the formula to be Mayor: 2 check-ins can earn you a mayor-ship within a 2 month period, and then it is all about having the most check-ins on a rolling 2 month period to keep it.

  • Crystal,
    I think that’s how most people feel. Although, no doubt there are some that won’t think about the privacy part and will check in to their doctors without thinking. I still like the message a doctor sends his patients if they go on to Foursquare and see his office listed there.

    Thanks for the details on Mayor. I’m not sure I’d want to be Mayor of a doctor’s office;-)

  • Hi John – great post and great comments from everyone. There are so many things to be very concerned about and it’s often frightening! We added 4sq right away to our social media efforts after we saw all the check-ins, plus we have quite a few locations so it was another opportunity to make an impression, deliver a message – carefully. There are some community building benefits but I agree w/ your own comment – it’s “clunky.” It’s even more so if you are a community manager since you have to manage the brand page, the location pages, and you have your “friend” or “user” page as well, plenty other issues too (all the other comments above) . Here’s our brand page if you want to take a look. We were the first hospital with one for what its worth.

  • Neal Gorman,
    Thanks for the great addition to the conversation. I particularly like how you used the existing check-ins as a prompt to do more. Very interesting indeed.

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