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No one can deny that mobile health (mHealth) applications for smartphones and tablets are pretty cool. But researchers are beginning to wonder if anyone out there is actually using mobile devices to manage their personal health or to provide care for others. Recent studies suggest a stagnant growth in the number of consumers who are downloading health applications but also document significant consumer interest in mHealth. And, while doctors and nurses are increasing their use of smartphones, use of tablets in clinical settings is not yet widespread.
Privacy concerns may be one reason for the slow consumer adoption of mHealth. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) should have more information about these concerns in 2012 when it releases results of a new study to determine how consumers feel about the privacy and security of mHealth technologies like Skype, text messaging, on-the-go email access and downloaded apps.
CAST believes that the majority of consumer mHealth applications are currently aimed at self-management and do not stream their data or health reports to their clinicians. Apart from research studies, physicians and nurses are not using smartphones and other mobile health devices to provide telehealth services for a number of reasons, including lack of payment streams under prevalent “fee-for-service” models and concerns about added liability exposure.
We firmly believe that the move toward pay-for-performance will provide more incentives for all stakeholders to use these emerging technologies. In the meantime, low-cost self-management, health coaching applications, and caregiver resources and support applications may be a way for aging service providers to establish a connection with consumers in order to expand their offerings, serve the broader community and increase market share.
Here are results from recent mHealth-related research findings:
The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project discovered in an August 2011 survey that about 11% of all adult cell phone users have downloaded an app that helps them manage their health. Although that figure is up from 9% in Sept. 2010, Pew characterized the increase as “a statistically insignificant difference.” Despite the stagnant growth in health app downloads, consumers still seem interested in this technology. A recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) found that consumers want to use mHealth applications to record their weight (44%), measure vital signs (40%) and record their adherence to a fitness plan (37%).
QuantiaMD reports that 80% of physicians own a smartphone and more than 30% now use tablets. Almost 20% of tablet-owning doctors are already using their device in clinical settings to look up drug and treatment reference material and search for assistance in diagnosing, treating and educating patients. Another 65% of physicians say they are likely to use a tablet in their practice.
Three-quarters (74.6%) of U.S. nurses use smartphones or tablets, according to a survey by the textbook publisher Springer Publishing. However, almost half (46.4%) of the nurses surveyed have never downloaded a medical app.