“Digital Omnivores” continue to feed mobile uptake in healthcare

As an M2M “vertical”, the healthcare sector has for years been considered to be full of promise but short on delivery. The complexities of creating a robust ecosystem to monitor cardiac conditions and chronic diseases, despite evidence of positive clinical and economic outcomes, have so far transpired to thwart really large scale roll-outs, even in the US, mHealth’s most promising market. That the time for remote patient monitoring will come I have no doubt. In the meantime, mobile networks and devices will find numerous other ways of benefiting the healthcare sector. The second annual Mobile Trends Report by medical app creator Epocrates, owned by the electronic healthcare record (EHR) company athenahealth, points to rapidly changing use of mobile technology by healthcare professionals who are finding their work practices transformed by increasing reliance on smartphones and tablets. By 2014, nine out of ten healthcare professionals in the US will use smartphones and the vast majority will also use tablets, finds the Epocrates survey. Perhaps more important, is that healthcare professionals are what Epocrates calls “digital omnivores”, who use a wide range of technologies to complete their everyday tasks- tablets, smartphones and laptop/desktop computers are all routinely in a professional capacity. Using the 2012 Epocrates Mobile Trends Survey as a benchmark, there has been a 68% increase in digital omnivores in the last year, while 82% of healthcare professionals surveyed expect to use all three digital platforms within the next twelve months. While personal computers are used throughout the standard workday from 7am-5pm, tablet and smartphone usage accounts for more than 40% of the time a typical clinician will spend using technology. Outside work hours mobile devices continue to be used for work reasons. In particular the mobile has become the primary screen for information seeking and exchange in many clinical areas, either through communication with work partners or through access to medical resources. All of this points to an important change in what we can consider mHealth to be now and in the future, and reinforces the findings of our recently published report on the industry. MHealth used to be about bespoke devices. Now it is more about using “standard” devices in a clever way to access medical data, medical libraries and treatment information. “Companion” hardware, drawing upon the power of the smartphone to interpret data, will also eventually all but replace expensive custom built devices.