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Report: Consumers Ready for mHealth, Doctors Less So

Thu, 06/07/2012 - 7:18am
Andrew Berg

A new study conducted for PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Healthcare by the Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that consumers will adopt the use of mobile technology in healthcare at a faster rate than at which providers will be able to adapt. 

The study found that consumers have high expectations for mHealth, particularly in developing economies as mobile cellular subscriptions there become ubiquitous. In emerging markets, consumers perceive mHealth as a way to increase access to healthcare while patients in developed markets see it as a way to improve the convenience, cost and quality of healthcare.

The consumer survey found that roughly one half of respondent think that within the next three years, mHealth will improve the convenience (46 percent), cost (52 percent) and quality (48 percent) of their healthcare.

Among consumers who already are using mHealth services, fully 59 percent said they have replaced some visits to doctors or nurses.

And yet consumers are not so sure their doctors are up to speed on the technology side of things. Sixty percent of consumers said they believe doctors are not as interested in mHealth as patients and technology companies are. 

The study found that physicians and payers are more cautious than consumers in their outlook for mHealth. Specifically, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of doctors and payers said that mHealth offers exciting possibilities but there are too few proven business models.  

In addition, the effectiveness of mHealth changing patient behavior is evolving. For example, more than two-thirds of consumer respondents who have used mHealth wellness or fitness applications with manual data entry discontinued it after the first six months.

Only 27 percent of physicians surveyed are actually encouraging their patients to use mHealth applications to become more active in managing their health, and 13 percent of physicians actually discourage it. Forty-two percent of doctors surveyed worry that mHealth will make patients too independent.   

“In developed markets, mHealth is perceived as disrupting the status quo, whereas in emerging countries it is seen as creating a new market, full of opportunity and growth potential," said Christopher Wasden, global healthcare innovation leader for PwC. "In younger, developing economies, healthcare is less constrained by healthcare infrastructure and entrenched interests. Consumers are more likely to use mobile devices and mHealth applications, and more payers are willing to cover the cost of mHealth services.”

The study comes in the wake yesterday's mHealth Summit hosted by the FCC, which convened senior executives and leaders from the health care technology industry, academia, and government to discuss the opportunities and challenges of mobile and wireless health products. 

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced a plan to cut red tape and increase spectrum flexibility for testing new wireless health innovations, which he said will speed new wireless health technologies to market.

In a report, the FCC cites data from the Boston Consulting Group and Telenor Group that shows mHealth applications are popular among consumers. According to the research, almost 17 million Americans accessed health information on mobile devices in 2011 and about 30 percent of smartphone users are likely to use wellness apps by 2015. 

The FCC contends that mHealth has the potential to improve the patient care, while lowering costs through remote monitoring of chronic conditions. According to a 2010 study by Continua Health Alliance, remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions has resulted in up to a 56 percent reduction in mortality, a 47 percent reduction in risk of hospitalization, and a 65 percent reduction in office visits. 

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