More people use mobile devices to look for health information

The increased popularity of smartphones has led more patients to proactively manage their care while on the go.

By — Posted Feb. 6, 2012

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The number of consumers using mobile devices to access health information has more than doubled in the past year, and the health care industry is taking note.

While general health and wellness questions have been the biggest drivers to the Web, many hope that as more types of information and tools become available, mobile devices will be the key to patient engagement.

Market research firm comScore published a post on its Data Mine blog Jan. 16 stating that from November 2010 to November 2011, the number of consumers using a mobile device to access health information rose 125% to 16.9 million. The firm got the information from its ongoing survey, comScore MobiLens, of mobile subscribers age 13 and up.

The survey did not specify the type of information mobile users are accessing, or the number of users on which its findings were based. But comScore is recognized in the technology industry as an authority in measuring Internet and mobile use.

Other surveys report greater or more frequent use of mobile devices in accessing health information.

According to a February 2011 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the most searched-for health topics by mobile device and desktop Internet users were specific diseases and conditions, treatments and procedures, and physicians and other health professionals. The report also found that wireless users outpace desktop users in how much information they look up. About 48% of wireless users look online for information about doctors and other health professionals, compared with 31% of Internet users without mobile access.

The increase in mobile device use to look up health information can be attributed to several factors, said Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of the Spyglass Consulting Group, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based market research and consulting firm that also tracks mobile health trends. One factor is an increase in the number of smartphone users. For example, Verizon Communications said in its fourth-quarter 2011 earnings statement released Jan. 24 that 44% of its cellphone customers used smartphones as of Dec. 31, 2011, up from 39% only three months earlier.

Malkary said that once you combine the growing number of smartphone users with the increased financial burden consumers have from health care, a growing desire to manage one's health and an increase in smartphone capability, the market is ripe for growth in mobile-based health management and engagement. He said many in the health industry have started responding to the demand, and it's only expected to grow.

In recent months, several insurers have invested in consumer-focused health apps, including chronic disease management and monitoring and symptom checkers. Kaiser Permanente launched an Android app to connect users to the patient portal of Kaiser's electronic medical record system, which had been accessed through a website before the smartphone app. Kaiser also has a mobile version of the portal website and is developing an iPhone app.

Kaiser patients can use the portal to make appointments, check lab and diagnostic test results, order prescription refills and email their doctors. "Our members are incredibly busy," said Bernadette Loftus, MD, the Permanente Medical Group's associate executive director for the Middle Atlantic States. "This new app will make these capabilities even easier to access, which will translate into even healthier and happier members."

The American Medical Association also has released apps, including the patient-focused My Medication. The 99-cent app, available from the iTunes store, lets patients create and update a list of medications, including dosing and scheduling information.

Although many mobile phone users use phones to access information and resources they used to access from a desktop computer, Malkary said the capabilities of the mobile devices already have surpassed those of a desktop. For example, there are apps capable of remote monitoring GPS devices to track Alzheimer's patients and apps that monitor medication compliance. The capabilities are only going to expand, he said.

"A lot of initiatives are being deployed now that are trying to address the mobility and better encourage the proactive management of one's own care," Malkary said, which will lead to better patient self-empowerment.

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External links

comScore Data Mine blog post on mobile health, Jan. 16 (link)

Health Topics, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 2011 (link)

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