Mobile health technology (mHealth) offers exciting opportunities to access and administer healthcare on the go. Patients and providers alike can benefit from the explosion of mobile devices and tools being developed to improve access, increase monitoring and lower costs. But are smartphones and tablets actually being used for healthcare? How can we encourage users to do so?
The adoption of mobile devices—smartphones and electronic tablets—is proceeding at an astounding pace. In 2011, more smartphones were purchased worldwide than computers, desktops and laptops combined (Canalysis 2012). According to a 2012 Pew Internet survey, roughly half of the adult population in the U.S. owns a smartphone. The healthcare sector has followed suit, developing innovative ways to use mobile health technology for patients and healthcare providers alike.
According to a recent survey conducted by our recruitment unit, 91% of physicians own mobile devices, but only 44% use them just occasionally to communicate with patients. Furthermore, less than 15% of patients use their smartphone or tablet for healthcare purposes.
The numbers are currently low but are steadily growing. The survey, which included patients, physicians and clinical trial coordinators, shed new light on ways mHealth can be leveraged to connect patients to clinical trial opportunities. Although the survey focused on clinical trials, the findings can be applied to other mobile healthcare campaigns.
Here are some key insights from the survey:
Communication vs. Computing
The groups surveyed are acquiring smartphones at a rapid rate, but they are relatively new users, with many having had their phone for less than three years. They are also comprised of a slightly older demographic that is generally slower to adopt new technology.
Smartphones are being used by all groups largely as a communication device (i.e., phone, text and e-mail) versus a computing device (i.e., accessing the internet and apps).
General patient use of smartphones can be described in the following way:
Most healthcare tasks involve some sort of computing function (i.e., finding information on the internet) as opposed to a communication function (i.e., talking to your physician on your cell). As smartphone and tablet owners become more adept at using mobile computing functions, the opportunities to deliver and access healthcare messaging via mobile will grow.
Future Trends: The Early Adopters
There is a core group of early adopters who are using their smartphones for healthcare (adults 35-54 who have had their smartphone for 3+ years). These early adopters (14% of the total sample) point to some exciting trends in mHealth usage for patients.
Early adopters are more likely to visit health-related websites (39% compared to 26% total).
They are also more likely to download health-related apps (27% versus 18% total), visit health-related communities (16percent vs. 8% total) and receive clinical trials information via an email on their mobile device (67% vs. 38% total).
Tips for Building a Successful mHealth Campaign
While mHealth is in its early adoption phase, there are some steps that can be taken now to encourage patients and professionals to use their mobile devices for healthcare.
Did you know that of the top 10 pharmaceutical brands, only Plavix® is optimized for mobile (Marketing:Health, March 9, 2012)? If you want people to access your site on mobile devices, make it easy to navigate and tailor content for the mobile experience.
Both patients and healthcare professionals have concerns about viewing personal health information on a mobile device. Data on portable devices is just as secure as on a laptop or desktop. Pass codes and locking features enhance security if the device is lost. However, the fact that they are as secure, if not more secure, is not well or consistently communicated. Reassure patients with clear, concise messaging that their mobile device is secure for viewing personal health information.
Healthcare professionals may also wish to implement a secure web-based portal to facilitate communication with patients about their specific healthcare needs.
About half of patients surveyed use their mobile device while in the waiting room, spending an average of five to 15 minutes on it. Most commonly, patients use their mobile device in the waiting room for:
Patients were also asked whether their physicians offered Wi-Fi in their offices. When provided for free, Wi-Fi is attractive to mobile users. According to the survey, if patients knew it was available, 79% of them accessed it, indicating the high level of interest for this service. However, 57% of patients were unsure whether their physician offered Wi-Fi or not.
Physicians should consider offering free Wi-Fi in their waiting rooms that provides patients with clinical trial or other healthcare information. Make sure to draw attention to this benefit and utilize appropriate signage to let patients know that Wi-Fi is available.
There are many practical steps you can take to start developing a mobile healthcare strategy. Even though your target audience may be a bit behind the curve, if you stay ahead of them, you might just be able to lead them exactly where you want them to go.