Bringing the Principles of Couchsurfing to Healthcare

For the uninitiated, couchsurfing is literally sleeping on a stranger’s couch for free. It’s an incredible global movement in which millions of people have participated.

My friend Alex Liss just produced a new documentary, One Couch at a Time, in which she couchsurfed six continents spanning 20 countries over the course of six months. She funded the trip via Kickstarter; directed, filmed, and produced the movie; and is now distributing the movie. Congratulations to Alex!

I always try to apply knowledge and insight across domains. How would couchsurfing work in healthcare? Can it work? Or is healthcare too rigid and bureaucratic for such a liberal and free-thinking movement like couchsurfing to succeed?

Couchsurfing is about openness, sharing, and cultural exchange. It’s about community. Slowly, these traits are taking root in the healthcare system:

  • PatientsLikeMe provides community and support for patients who deal with similar lifestyle and clinical challenges.
  • Doximity connects doctors to share and learn from each other.
  • ZocDoc empowers patients to find and compare doctors.
  • NewChoiceHealth allows the public to see and compare procedure costs across care providers.
  • Happtique and Healthtap are helping patients and doctors discover and use healthcare apps more effectively.
  • The entire quantified self and wearable computing movement is all about collecting, understanding, and sharing our personal data.

There will always be personal and intimate relationships between patients and doctors. But patients will also develop online and online-to-offline relationships with a host of others to complement the patient-physician relationship. Some of the best doctors will mobilize patients to engage with others to provide continued support and success overtime. These doctors understand that they provide the foundation to springboard their patients into complementary activities and relationships.

These complementary sharing networks and relationships are potent. It’s widely known that social pressure pushes people to lead healthier lifestyles, which turn reduces healthcare expenses.

Couchsurfing is one of the most powerful movements on the Internet. It fosters some of the best beliefs and practices in human nature and culture. It’s about time that healthcare and couchsurfing collide.


Kyle Samani is a technology enthusiast who is passionate about healthcare and technology startups.

  • Ann Farrell

    Your article – like many – is MD- not patient- centric. It goes without saying that MDs play pivotal role and perform valuable services. However, they are not the center of the wheel with everyone else the spokes including the patient…nor a patient straight line to MD with everyone else under as “staffers”. Each care provider plays a unique role with talents and contributions based on discipline. They are not junior doctors. Wish we could walk the talk not just give lip service to a truly patient centric model.
    Vast majority of us will interact more with an RN than an MD over our lifetime -in the hospital and most ambulatory and home settings – as well as other clinicians, e.g. therapists. NPs and PAs will direct more routine primary care, including prescribing some meds and treatments, and often have more “intimate” relationships with the patient than the MD.
    MU and many EHRs have codified the concept that RNs are order takers and task masters collecting data for MDs who are “Captains of the Ship”.
    BTW – forward thinking MDs agree. Care is increasingly a team effort and not a zero sum game whereby giving credit to others for what they do somehow diminishes MD role. And adding “oh yes, the nurses…” as an afterthought doesn’t cut it anymore. .

  • Alexandra Liss

    Kyle, we met because of CouchSurfing. I went to Burningman because of CouchSurfing, where I met Andie Grace (in the bathroom of SXSW) and she works with Mike Wilson — who asked if I wanted to meet up with you via the internet. It was because of the CouchSurfing spirit that I was willing to meet up with a stranger and here we are πŸ™‚

  • kylesamani

    howdy Ann

    Great point. After reading your comments, I wish I had talked more about services that help connect patients with other care providers. Now that I think about, I can’t think of that many off the top of my head. Do any such services come to your mind? The only one that I immediately think of is AthenaCommunicator.

  • kylesamani

    Alex, you rock! Glad i could get you a shout out in the healthcare IT world

    I’ll be coming to bay area at end of July. can’t wait to say hello (and maybe couch surf? ) again!

  • Ann Farrell

    Howdy to you too,
    Athena is ambulatory which is not my area of focus. I’d check out what case managers in hospitals and health coaches at payers, home health and oncology nurses are using to communicate with patients and families. Perhaps someone in these disciplines will read this and respond.
    The Interactive Patient Services vendors – niche (e.g. GetWellNetwork, Skylight, pCare) and enterprise EMRs (e.g. Cerner MyStation, Epic Bedside) – support data sharing with patients and families in hospitals using the TV and tablets. We see many recent innovations that engage patients in their own care largely driven by MU (patient education and engagement) and ACA/VPB with payments based on the Patient Experience. Portals have been the primary ways patient access info at home and communicate with care providers. As you know many patient interactions with MDs in their offices or clinics are screened / triaged by RNs or office staff. Would be interested in your review of IPS inpatient solutions.

  • kylesamani

    howdy Ann

    I haven’t worked with any of the bedside patient solution systems. They’re a great concept, but I imagine it’s hard to justify from the hospital’s budgetary point of view. I doubt there’a material correlation between using these devices/services and patient satisfaction, especially because patients can just google whatever disease they have while they’re laying in bed bored out of their minds anyways.

    Portals have, unfortunately, been one of the few way doctors and patients have communicated. They’re getting better, and there are startups such as Avado that are trying to really push patient portals above and beyond their very limited current incarnations.

  • Ann Farrell

    Actually, not so regarding potential ROI on IPS. Patients are able to get services from departments quicker, e.g. housekeeping, dietary (order trays), regulate heat and drapes. They have real time surveys (not replicating H-CAPs) that can help identify and service issues, e.g. comfort and noise levels, caregiver communications, that can be remedied while the patient is still hospitalized rather than have them negatively impact H-CAPS scores that negatively impact on reimbursement. IPSs also support patient specific education targeted at their condition or new medication or treatment – much better content that’s more targeted than generic or unfiltered info on Google. Suggest you take a look at these and by all means focus on proven benefits / ROI.

  • This was written about a year ago, so was curious if there have been any updates? Is there some sort of trusted private/secret fb group where healthcare professionals are finding each other for exchanging hospitality?

    (disclosure I’m working on a hospitality exchange platform for existing communities)

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