Not Just for Starbucks: Why Location Awareness is Healthcare’s Next Big Thing

Updated on November 9, 2021
Front entrance to a hospital with palm tree landscaping and blue sky

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Joshua Titus 

Just as Starbucks uses geofencing to push out time-sensitive offers and reduce customer wait times, hospitals are finding value from targeted push notifications, from ZIP code-based notifications about available vaccinations to instructions on where and how to seek care. 

The pandemic drove consumer engagement with targeted push notifications—mobile messages sent to consumers based on their location—to its highest level in four years during the first month of the pandemic. Today, 82% of consumers use location-aware apps, and 60% are open to receiving targeted push notifications. 

With the geofencing market expected to grow by $1.48 billion by 2023, what should healthcare leaders consider in assessing whether targeted push notifications are right for their system? Following are three example use cases that provide value for hospitals and health systems.

1. Helping patients with chronic disease better manage their care.

A few years before the pandemic, a UCSF study of heart disease patients demonstrated the potential for geofencing technology to detect when patients with chronic disease are admitted to the hospital. Researchers believed this information could be used to deliver mobile messages to patients after discharge on ways to reduce their risk of readmission. It could also help change behaviors in the moment, such as by sharing suggestions for healthy food choices when individuals enter grocery stores or restaurants or offer recommendations for exercise options when they head to the gym. Now, leading health systems are using location-based technologies to send targeted push notifications to consumers based on their health interests or diagnoses, such as users in a given ZIP code who are undergoing cardiac rehab. 

Given that 92% of smartphones are compatible with targeted push notifications, this approach holds strong capability to improve health outcomes in consumers with complex health conditions who opt into this information. Key to success: ensuring that consumers with chronic illness consent to push notifications, know how their information will be used, and are confident that their personal information is securely protected.

2. Providing a digital companion for patients throughout their care journey.

When hospitals incorporate location-aware technologies in their mobile apps, they gain the ability to provide patients with a hand-holding experience at each stage of the patient journey, from the home to the parking lot to the point of care. Each step of the journey is mapped out on their phone, personalized to that day’s encounter. This level of wayfinding eliminates the frustration patients feel when, for example, they manage to find the imaging department only to be told they should have visited Registration first. It creates a seamless encounter that eases the anxiety patients may feel about the need for care.

Having this kind of digital companion for patients can also strengthen loyalty and help solidify an organization’s market position. This is an especially important consideration with CMS set to double the weight of patient experience metrics under Medicare Advantage for the 2021 plan year and with 70% of consumers relying on online reviews to make healthcare purchasing decisions. To round out the patient experience, make sure the app not only guides patients to their point of care, but also helps them remember where they parked.

3. Strengthening vaccination distribution efforts.

As COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out across the nation this year, hospitals and public health agencies used targeted push notifications to ensure that leftover vaccines did not go to waste. In cities like Boston, the service reduced frustration from what residents viewed as a cumbersome enrollment process while helping to eliminate the potential for vaccines to spoil before they could be used. With vaccines for younger children anticipated in late 2021 or early 2022, healthcare organizations that take advantage of push notifications for COVID-19 vaccines now will better position their organization to meet continued demand. They also could bolster flu vaccination efforts this fall using the same technology.

At University Health System in San Antonio, use of targeted push notifications to consumers in specific ZIP codes enables the health system to communicate availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in real time. It also improves the health system’s ability to target vulnerable and underserved populations, helping to eliminate health disparities. Since promoting push notifications to support vaccine scheduling, more than 160,000 people have downloaded University Health System’s digital app.

A Modern Approach to Consumer Engagement

During the pandemic, location-aware app notifications became vital to healthcare organizations’ efforts to keep residents informed and limit the spread of infection. Now, they present a compelling opportunity for conducting targeted outreach to strengthen consumer engagement, improve health outcomes, and enhance population health management. In 2021 and beyond, leveraging location aware mobile devices is a forward-focused tactic leaders should consider.


Joshua Titus is CEO, Gozio Health, a company that specializes in end-to-end, customizable mobile platforms for health systems. Titus is passionate about creating mobile technology that informs and delights users.  

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.