Doctors Concerned About Consumers' Mobile Health Use

Promises of healthcare quality increases and cost savings aren't enough to ease physicians' worries about patients using mobile health tools, new PwC study shows.
10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy
10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy
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Roughly half of consumers predict that within the next three years mobile health will improve the convenience (46%), cost (52%), and quality (48%) of their healthcare, according to a survey of consumers, payers, and physicians in both developed and emerging markets around the world. Like consumers, health plans are also enthusiastic about the technology, but doctors are showing less zeal, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey.

The survey, Emerging mHealth: Paths for Growth, also revealed that 42% of payers, compared to 25% of physicians, encourage patients to let doctors monitor their health and activities using mobile health services and devices. Additionally, 42% of doctors surveyed worry that mobile health will make patients too independent.

Another important sign that doctors aren't fully embracing the technology: only 27% encourage patients to use mobile health applications to become more active in managing their health, and 13% of physicians actually discourage it.

"The study shows that consumers are demanding it, payers are increasingly willing to pay for it, and physicians are resisting it," said Chris Wasden, global healthcare innovation leader at PwC. "For physicians the real challenge is that this type of technology is very disruptive to the practice of medicine. The way that a physician practices digital medicine from a day-to-day workflow perspective, the way the physician staffs his or her office, the way they manage the resources around that is very different from what they [have done previously]," Wasden said.

To prepare the study, PwC Global Healthcare commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to conduct two surveys, one of 1,027 consumers and another of 433 doctors (who work in the public and private sector) and 345 executives at health plans. The survey included 10 countries: Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

[To find out which medical apps doctors and patients are turning to, see 9 Mobile Health Apps Worth A Closer Look]

The study defined mobile health as any type of healthcare delivered remotely--i.e., from a location away from a healthcare delivery organization--using devices such as tablets and smartphones that run health and fitness applications. It also includes wireless-enabled patient monitoring devices such as blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, and weight scales. Telehealth technology also fits under the mobile health umbrella, according to the researchers.

The report suggested that mobile health will have a greater impact on healthcare than other more established technologies like the Internet because mobile devices are ubiquitous and personal, have an attractive price point, and allow users to always be a part of a network through which customers can easily and quickly access information.

The report also states that as the healthcare industry moves toward personalized medicine, mobile health will play a major role in assisting consumers--whether they are in the early stages of a illness or patients with chronic illnesses--to control many aspects of their health, including their weight, high blood pressure, and glucose levels.

Wasden told InformationWeek Healthcare he was pleasantly surprised that the research confirms that mobile health has moved further along in the product and innovation maturity cycle. "We've gone beyond just the original early adopters who are at the technological edge and fringe. ... [T]he people who are most likely to have downloaded health apps, or are using mobile health in its various forms, are actually people that have an illness," Wasden said. "This maturity opens people's eyes with regards to the real impact of mHealth. We are not talking speculatively anymore about what could be, but ... what is happening today and what could happen [if mHealth] is adopted on a broad scale."

Other key findings in the consumer portion of the survey are:

-- 59% of emerging-market patients use at least one mobile health application or service, compared with 35% in the developed world.

-- Nearly half of consumers said they expect mobile health will change the way they manage chronic conditions (48%), their medication (48%), and their overall health (49%).

-- 59% expect mobile health to change the way they seek information on health issues, and 48% expect it to change the way they communicate with physicians.

-- The top three reasons consumers want to use mHealth is to have more convenient access to their doctor or healthcare provider (46%), to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs (43%), and to take greater control over their health (32%).

Other key findings among physicians and payers:

-- 64% of doctors and payers said that mobile health offers exciting possibilities, but there are too few proven business models. In addition, the effectiveness of mobile health changing patient behavior is evolving.

-- Payers and providers both cited the complexity and scope of change associated with mobile health as barriers to its adoption. Public sector doctors and payers cited lack of existing technology as the biggest barrier. (Sixty-three percent of physicians in the private sector, versus only 40% in the public sector, have access to wireless connectivity at work.)

-- 45% of doctors and payers said that the application of inappropriate regulations originally developed for earlier technologies is slowing the adoption of mobile health.

-- More than a quarter--27% of doctors and 26% of payers--cite an inherently conservative culture as a leading barrier to the adoption of mHealth.

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