Mobile Health Revolution: Doctors And Patients Disagree - InformationWeek

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Paul Cerrato
Paul Cerrato
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Mobile Health Revolution: Doctors And Patients Disagree

Many doctors frown on consumers' interest in mobile health, says PwC report. But that's only half the story.

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A recent PwC survey finds that about half of consumers believe mobile health technology will improve healthcare. And 59% of those who use some form of mobile health technology say it has replaced visits to doctors and nurses. But the report also says that, although the public is enthusiastic about mobile health tech, most doctors aren't as enamored with patients' use of it.

"Only 27% encourage patients to use mHealth apps in order to become more active in managing their health; 13% actively discourage it," according to the report, Emerging mHealth: Paths For Growth.

The survey revealed that 64% of physicians "worry that mHealth makes patients too independent." In a video posted on the PwC website, Christopher Wasden, PwC global healthcare innovation leader, offers his perspective: With mobile technology, "consumers are now empowered with information on price, services, wait times, and quality. ... So they start making decisions like they would in any other marketplace."

The implication is clear: Clinicians fear that if patients have increased mobile access to medical information, doctors will lose control of how medicine is practiced and lose revenue.

Many physicians worry that their traditional role as captain of the healthcare ship will weaken as consumers use mobile health apps or access websites on their smartphones to gain more control of their own care. As these data sources provide patients with cost comparisons for gallbladder surgery and colonoscopies, and let them see complication rates for local physicians, those patients are empowered to choose the clinicians who offer the best service for the most reasonable fee.

[ Wearable devices equipped with sensors and Web connections help consumers track health and fitness. Take a look at what's possible now. 10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy. ]

But self-interest isn't the only motive driving physicians' resistance to mobile health. Many doctors are also genuinely concerned about the potential dangers of mobile health apps when put into the hands of uninformed patients.

With eight years of specialized training in medical school and residency plus several years of direct patient care, doctors obviously have good reason to consider themselves better qualified to diagnose and treat disease than patients who rely on a Google search or mobile app, in conjunction with over-the-counter and folk remedies.

Physicians have legitimate concerns about the harm that these apps can do. And any profession with specialized knowledge would feel the same way. If civil engineers were suddenly told the entire construction industry was being deregulated and a car mechanic or a landscaper could now draw up the blueprints for suspension bridges, they'd fear for the public's safety.

Of course, you can take this analogy too far. There are all sorts of construction projects that don't require an engineer's services, and there are lots of relatively minor health problems that consumers can manage without professional help. But there are many they can't handle--and don't always realize it until it's too late.

The medical and lay literature is full of horror stories about patients treating their own cancers with herbal medicine, for example, who die after they refused professional help. And there are unscrupulous IT developers who won't think twice about offering mobile apps that make unrealistic claims about some "innovative" health regimen.

In the final analysis, both consumers and clinicians must find a middle ground. Physicians have to get used to the idea of sharing the decision-making process, and patients should accept that reading a few articles on the Internet does not make them an expert.

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/22/2012 | 3:29:55 PM
re: Mobile Health Revolution: Doctors And Patients Disagree
In this article I summarize the PwC market research report from a consumer perspective.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/19/2012 | 4:52:48 PM
re: Mobile Health Revolution: Doctors And Patients Disagree
I can't imagine that physicians are taking time on their own to self educate about mHealth apps on top of learning their EMRs, eRX systems, CPOE lab ordering etc... I assume they equate it to using the internet to research your health issues, which can be frightening for patient and physician.

Maybe someday it'll be like pharm reps -- the app reps will go to the physicians offices and demo products in the hopes they'll suggest it to their patients. Until it gets to that point, where you're putting the product in the doctor's face to see/demo, I wouldn't expect many providers to concentrate or care about much about mHealth apps.

InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
6/19/2012 | 4:30:22 PM
re: Mobile Health Revolution: Doctors And Patients Disagree
This should be a partnership, not a competition. The one thing mHealth can and should do that benefits Doctors and improves patient outcomes is to document and benchmark how daily activities are affecting our health. Daily tracking of weight, BMI, body fat and blood pressure has never been easier. I use a platform offered by QUENTIQ. I have lost nearly 20 LBS and for the first time can analyze what contributed to my weight loss. Of course, those were my goals. Others may be managing conditions that require chronic monitoring like Diabetes or hypertension. The same rules apply. Capture, document and then share with your doctor. I would think health care professionals would welcome analytical tools like this.
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