mHealth still untapped resource for docs

People cite privacy concerns for lack of adoption
By Eric Wicklund
10:49 AM
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Doctor holding tablet

For the most part, providers are still wary over the mHealth movement. And this caution just might be preventing them from big care improvement opportunities, say the findings of a new study.

The study, commissioned by mobile professional services firm Mobiquity, finds some 70 percent of consumers use mobile apps every day to track physical activity and calorie intake, but only 40 percent share that information with their doctor.

[See also: mHealth market scales to new heights.]

Privacy concerns and the need for a doctor's recommendation are the two factors hindering the use of mobile and fitness apps for mHealth reasons, say officials with the Boston-based Mobiquity, which produced "Get Mobile, Get Healthy: The Appification of Health and Fitness."

That, officials said, means the healthcare community has to take a more active role in promoting these types of apps and uses.

"Our study shows there's a huge opportunity for medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies and health organizations to use mobile to drive positive behavior change and, as a result, better patient outcomes," said Scott Snyder, Mobiquity's president and chief strategy officer, in a press release. "The gap will be closed by those who design mobile health solutions that are indispensable and laser-focused on users' goals, and that carefully balance data collection with user control and privacy."

[See also: FCC creates mHealth task force.]

The study, conducted between March 5 and 11, focused on 1,000 consumers who use or plan to use health and fitness mobile apps.

According to the study:

  • 34 percent of mobile health and fitness app users say they would use their apps more often if their doctor recommended it
  • 61 percent say privacy concerns are hindering their adoption of mobile apps. Other concerns include time investment (24 percent), uncertainty on how to start (9 percent) and not wanting to know about health issues (6 percent).
  • 73 percent said they are more healthy because they use a smartphone and apps to track health and fitness
  • 53 percent discovered, through an app, that they were eating more calories than they realized
  • 63 percent intend to continue or increase their mobile health tracking over the next five years
  • 55 percent plan to try wearable devices like pedometers, wristbands or smartwatches
  • Using a smartphone to track health and fitness is more important than using the phone for social networking (69 percent), shopping (68 percent), listening to music (60 percent) or even making/receiving phone calls (30 percent).

"We believe 2014 is the year that mobile health will make the leap from early adopters to mainstream," Mobiquity officials said in their introduction to the survey. "The writing is on the wall: from early rumors about a native health-tracking app in the next version of Apple’s iPhone operating system to speculation that Apple will finally launch the much-anticipated iWatch, joining Google, Samsung and Pebble in the race to own the emerging wearables market."

[See also: Realizing the mHealth promise.]

"But before we jump ahead, it's worth understanding the experiences of today's consumers and their attitudes toward using smartphones to track their health and fitness," the introduction continued. " First, brands, marketers and healthcare organizations should pay heed to how 'sticky' these kinds of apps are – that is, how do the most popular apps keep people engaged and what lessons can be learned and applied toward using mobile to drive healthier activity and behavior change? Second, it’s interesting to evaluate the gap between consumers’ interest in the quantified-self compared to that of the medical profession."

In its conclusion, the survey offered three tips for mHealth app developers looking to make an impact on the market:

Be indispensable. "Surprising people with new insights about their health and fitness is useful. But they may not know what to do next with this information," the report reads. "You must clearly show how these insights translate into practical ways to use a mobile app or device to achieve positive behavior change."

Ensure the experience is "laser-focused" on the consumer's objectives. "People say they are using apps to track goals, be more aware of health conditions and stay motivated – but they also say they often forget to use them," the report reads. "If the user experience is not designed to mesh and adapt to consumers’ lifestyles and their health journeys, these solutions quickly become irrelevant. This is a huge opportunity for the next generation of apps and wearable devices."

Help overcome barriers to adoption. "Big winners in the mobile health and fitness space will be those who stimulate widespread adoption by helping people decrease or eliminate the time it takes to collect and track their data, and still enable them to control what health data to share and with whom to share it," the report said. "It’s the fine balance of having a mobile health-tracking solution that works automatically in the background, but with the user still in the driver's seat."