Mobile Health: More Patients Embrace It, But Physicians Still Cautious

June 12, 2012

How physicians and patients are using mHealth, and why payers are encouraging it, across the globe.

In the United States and beyond, it’s no surprise consumers are warming up to mobile health, whether they’re using their smartphones to look up medical conditions or using their media tablets to make appointments electronically with physicians.

But while a growing number of consumers are embracing mobile health, there is still some hesitation on the part of physicians, according to two new studies commissioned by market research firm PwC and conducted by Economist Intelligence Unit.

According to the consumer survey - based on more than 1,000 people in 10 countries, including Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States - the top three reasons consumers use mHealth are a.) more convenient access to healthcare providers (46 percent), b.) to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs (43 percent), and c.) to take greater control over their health (32 percent).

Among those consumers who already are using mHealth services, 59 percent said they have replaced some visits to doctors or nurses. What’s more, nearly half of consumers said they expect mHealth will change the way they manage chronic conditions (48 percent), their medication (48 percent) and their overall health (49 percent).  Six in ten consumers (59 percent) expect mHealth to change the way they seek information on health issues and 48 percent expect it to change the way they communicate with physicians.  

Apps that are gaining traction with patients are those centered on convenience, scheduling, and appointments (for example, an app that lets patients in a designated geographic area search for a specialty physician with appointment availability in a certain timeframe). Apps focused on improving health, such as those that allow diabetics to manage their medications, are also gaining in popularity, according to the report.

It’s important to note, however, that the data takes into account the attitudes and practices of patients and physicians in emerging countries, which can present a stark contrast to those in developed countries, Christopher Wasden, global healthcare innovation Leader, PwC, told Physicians Practice

Whereas in emerging countries, mHealth is seen as great technology that gives a greater number of people access to healthcare, in developed countries, mHealth is perceived as a “disruptive” technology that might take revenue away from physicians.

“We have abundant access to care, and physicians are trained in only providing physical services,” said Wasden. “Also, in the developed world, consumers do not pay for their healthcare, generally, and copays are generally small. So the primary driver is convenience, it’s not cost.”

However, while patients are hungry for mobile health, the second survey - based on 433 doctors and 345 payers in those same 10 countries - reveals some hesitation on the part of physicians, especially those in developed countries. Only 27 percent of physicians encourage patients to use mHealth applications to become more active in managing their health, and 13 percent of physicians actually discourage it, according to the survey.

But perhaps physicians here will change their attitudes, as payers appear to be far more supportive of mHealth. According to the survey, 40 percent of payers compared to 25 percent of physicians encourage patients to let doctors monitor their health and activities using mHealth services and devices. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of waste in the system we could eliminate if we encouraged other modes of healthcare delivery,” said Wasden. “The reality is the vast majority of all primary care visits are very low-risk events. A mother can diagnose an ear infection as well as any physician can, and all she has to do is get a prescription refilled for an antibiotic.”