Commentary

Putting Medical Power (And Responsibility) Into Mom's Hands

With more information available to us than ever before, it’s not surprising that moms are turning to their computers and smartphones for health information for themselves and their families. We recently updated our “Dr. Mom” study from 2013, and found that 74% of moms say they gather as much information as they can before contacting their healthcare provider, a 14% increase from two years ago. 

The new study found that 56% of moms say they trust their healthcare provider (HCP), but still go online for a “second opinion,” up 6% from 2013. The same number of moms also agree with the statement, “I will follow doctor product recommendations, but only after I do my own research and talk to other parents.”

Given moms’ heavy smartphone usage, it’s no surprise that they’re doing most of this medical research, and overall health management, on mobile devices. More than half said they are “very interested in being able to consult my healthcare provider via an app” (57%), and 39% said they already use apps to connect directly to an HCP for diagnoses and/or treatment. 37% track their families’ health information on their phones, using apps to generate alerts or provide information during their appointments.

A Double-Edged Sword

When it comes to my family’s health, I’m like most moms; I’m a researcher. I love having a wealth of information and articles at my fingertips, so I can feel prepared when I walk into my HCP’s office. At the same time, all of that information can feel overwhelming. How do I sort out contradictory information? Do those scary “worst-case scenarios” apply to me?

I’m not alone: 53% of moms said that searching for health information online often leads to unnecessary anxiety and stress, and 45% said they find the amount of information to be overwhelming. That may be why only 18% reported that their HCPs encourage them to research their conditions online. 

Support From Other Moms 

When online research becomes overwhelming, I find it helpful to ask other parents for their advice. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only mom freaking out about her daughter’s pink eye or wondering how long her son’s sprained ankle will keep him on the sidelines. Sometimes I talk to my friends in person about these issues, but I also find it valuable to consult with a wider community through online networks and forums. It’s a great way to ask questions and validate my decisions in a comfortable, non-overwhelming environment.

Our research shows similar habits among most moms. While healthcare providers and “real life” connections are still the top resources for health and wellness information, 66% say they turn to online communities for information and support.

From Research To Diagnosis

Looking ahead, it’s going to be fascinating to watch the evolution of the smartphone from research device to diagnostic tool. Northwestern University in Illinois has developed and tested an app called Purple Robot that can actually help diagnose depression. Researchers are looking for ways to use smartphone cameras in diagnosing certain eye diseases, and doctors want to use smartphones as diagnostic tools in underdeveloped countries. In fact, one group from Columbia University is using smartphones in Rwanda to test pregnant mothers for diseases that could be transmitted to their children. 

The Takeaway

Whether moms are researching health conditions, tracking their kids’ appointments, connecting with other parents, or using apps to diagnose conditions on their own, it’s clear that mobile technology is putting more and more medical power into consumers’ hands. That power has the potential to be overwhelming, so content providers and app developers need to be mindful of the crowded and sometimes confusing landscape. Brands that provide trusted information and life-simplifying functionality will rise to the top, earning moms’ engagement and lasting loyalty along the way.

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