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Mobile services poised to have significant impact on healthcare: study

A Euro RSCG Life 4D study found that the future is optimistic for mobile health and wellness smartphone applications.

In fact, the survey found that 44 percent of smartphone users expect to use more mobile health and wellness applications in future. Euro RSCG predicts consumers will be increasingly reliant on the mobile and social tools made available for health management.

?For health marketers, mobile presents a blur between marketing and the provision of care,? said Larry Mickelberg, chief digital officer, Euro RSCG Life Worldwide, New York. ?Marketers can't just promote in the mobile space, they have to offer real help to patients. 

?There is no doubt that mobile services are poised to have a significant impact on healthcare in the United States,? he said. ?The issue is not whether, it?s when and how it will happen, and who will make the run. We believe mobile has both an opportunity and a responsibility to become an integral part of the healthcare system.

?Mobile alone will not provide a magic bullet solution to the nation?s healthcare issues, but it does have the potential to shift key elements in the equation, much as direct-to-consumer communication did a decade ago.?

Mobile to lead healthcare journey
Euro RSCG believes mobile devices can and should become an integral part of the healthcare journey, and could help physicians in a new and beneficial way.

For this to happen, the penetration of suitable mobile devices in the mainstream must happen as quickly as possible, and obstacles to usage must be addressed.

The question now is which organizations have the incentive, the creativity, the courage and the influence to make it happen. 

One opportunity would be for relevant third parties to subsidize or cosponsor the provision of smartphones or mobile devices to specific patient groups in order to foster their healthcare objectives.

This would be particularly relevant for chronic conditions requiring careful management, such as diabetes.

Euro RSCG surveyed 502 online users for this study.

Healthcare apps increasingly popular
Only a fraction of consumers have downloaded healthcare applications, but approximately half of total consumers and three-fourths of smartphone users expressed a willingness to do so.

While the market penetration for healthcare applications remains quite low, 62 percent of those who have used one ranked their experience as positive.

Of those willing to use mobile devices to capture health information, 67 percent agreed having available information on a mobile device would be helpful or improve the information?s value.

Consumers trust doctors most of all for recommendations on health and wellness apps, followed by friends and family. They trust social networks least of all these options. 

Mobile is on the brink of being a prime ? even primary ? channel for healthcare communications.

Primary digital interface
?Mobile in general will quickly become the primary digital interface between brands and their customers,? Mr. Mickelberg said. ?Yet, we still see a fair amount of apps that really aren?t anything more than promotional novelties ? and are of shockingly limited value.

?Mobile can serve as a real functional intermediary in the provision of health care, and form truly meets function in the best and most useful health apps,? he said. ?Your app can promote quick and easy access to information, tools, and support that enable a more connected or participatory health experience between patients, HCPs, and brands.

App discovery
The study found that the majority of consumers discover applications by either browsing an app store or from recommendations by friends or family.

So far, most mobile has focused on the needs of healthcare professionals.

The body of information they have to master is vast and they have the most pressing need for extensive, detailed, timely information. They have the clearest and most critical need for in the moment healthcare support.

They also have the money and incentive to invest in the latest technology. Consequently, many physicians have smartphones.

The competition for healthcare professionals? adoption has been fierce but, despite the fast- maturing lineup of offerings, the landscape of future mobile healthcare is by no means fixed. It is still not clear which organizations, or types of organizations, will become the dominant force in mobile healthcare.

At this relatively early stage, it could be players from the pharmaceutical industry or the medical industry, but it could just as easily be entrants from IT or media, per Euro RSCG.

The professionals in the domain are the low-hanging fruit in the healthcare ecosystem.

Serving patients in healthcare
The next stages of development in mobile healthcare will be shaped by technologies that serve the needs of patients in healthcare. 

There are already nearly 7,000 medical, healthcare, and fitness applications in Apple?s App Store alone, covering disease management, medication tracking, drug recalls, medical reference and diagnosis.
?Consumer adoption is challenged, largely for a few reasons,? Mr. Harris said. ?Limited, but growing, smartphone adoption - this is really table stakes here. Another challenge, symptomatic of this, is low awareness of apps and possibilities. 

?Beyond simple awareness of apps is a clear way to seek a identify them,? he said. ?With just 5 apps showing at a time on the iPhone app store screen, it takes many minutes and a lot of scanning to have a proper look at even 100 of the tens of thousands of apps available. It?s like shopping a physical store wearing a helmet with a letter-box eye slit.

?Only the most dedicated and persistent app seeker is likely to browse through to find more than a handful of the apps that may be interesting. We need a more useful way to browse, find and sample apps.?

Final take
Giselle Tsirulik is senior editor of Mobile Marketer