Smartphones: the new frontier for physicians

Michelle Kelly

EPG Health Media

The pace of new technology hardware is moving at an incredible rate – the question keeping most CEOs awake at night is now as much about what medium their customers will be using to receive their message as it is about the message itself. In terms of mobile technology, the smartphone market has significantly changed the way we receive information, with the rise of fast mobile internet access and a multitude of “apps” for devices such as the iPhone, Blackberry, Android phones and other similar devices.

However, such smartphones have enormous potential in healthcare, not just as a medium for communicating drug and patient information, but also as tools to allow self-monitoring by patients and rapid diagnosis by physicians. In view of this dynamically changing market, we felt it was time to explore in more detail how healthcare providers (HCPs) are using such technology and where the market might be heading.

Background and objectives

A 2009 survey (by Manhattan Research) on physician smartphone use found that 64% of US physicians owned a smartphone. The study further predicted that by 2012 the proportion of smartphone owners would increase to 81%. Research from Morgan Stanley also suggests that within 5 years time, more people will be accessing the internet via mobile devices than through traditional desktop computers (figure 1).

Figure 1: Mobile internet use is soon forecast to exceed desktop internet use

Whilst the US is traditionally a rapid adopter of new technology, a year can be a long time in this market. The EPG Health Media study therefore sought to establish where the market was in Europe and in what direction it was heading, including:

• The extent and type of mobile technology adoption among HCPs in key markets

• How HCPs currently utilise mobile technology and how they seek to do so in the future

• The benefits of mobile health as perceived by HCPs in practice

• What type of information is accessed most frequently or is in most demand by HCPs

• The future potential and outlook for mobile healthcare

Respondents were 240 doctors from the EU ‘big five’ countries (UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy), with 100 US doctors used as the basis of comparison. Each respondent answered 23 mandatory multiple choice type questions.

Key findings

The results from our ‘Smartphone use in healthcare ’ study found that the 2009 projection for 2012 has seemingly been overtaken by the pace of change, with US respondents reporting 81% ownership of smartphones, 2 years ahead of the previous projection.

While the US currently leads the way in terms of smartphone usage, Europe is not far behind. Our results suggest that 44% of EU doctors currently have a smartphone and ownership is set to grow to a remarkable 65% in the next 6 months alone, suggesting that few physicians will not be armed with such a device by 2012.

 

“…44% of EU doctors currently have a smartphone and ownership is set to grow to a remarkable 65% in the next 6 months alone…”

 

But what does this mean for the way doctors communicate and engage with pharma and publishers alike?

Well, the results show that 95% of physicians who use handheld devices download applications to access medical information. There are currently over 250,000 apps available for download from the Apple store (a number which is growing daily) and, according to MobiHealthNews, in the first quarter of 2010 over 7,000 of these were health and fitness apps, with 30% designed for use by healthcare professionals and the remainder for patients or health consumers. Despite this, our study indicates that demand outstrips supply for content for HCPs via smartphone, especially in Europe.

In addition, in the US the data suggest that well over half of US physicians are using their smartphones for at least 3 hours a day, with almost a quarter of European physicians showing the same level of use – a figure which will also no doubt increase rapidly.

Critically, smartphones are being used for far more than simply keeping in touch with colleagues, with their use for drug information, medical articles and patient records also being a priority for the European doctors (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Priorities for HCPs when using smartphones

The same question posed to US physicians shows a much broader spectrum of priorities in smartphone use, suggesting effective customer segmentation could be critical to pharma companies looking to reach the right physicians with the right information in the future.

Of course, the findings presented here are just the tip of the iceberg with the full report covering over 20 questions including:

• Does your smartphone help you prescribe and / or diagnose?

• Does your smartphone help you communicate better with health organisations, e.g. pharma companies?

• Is there information that you feel you could not get via smartphone that you currently receive via pharma reps?

• Do you welcome branded information from healthcare/drug companies?

Sadly, we can’t make the full results available free of charge, but we hope these highlights are useful and they certainly suggest an interesting and rapidly developing market that presents significant opportunities.

Conclusions

European doctors are tooling up with smartphone technology at a pace that matches other professional sectors in Europe, driven – in part – by the iPhone revolution. Nevertheless, availability of good quality, localised (in particular EU centric) Apps catering to this market is limited, which is perplexing given the extraordinary demand highlighted by this study.

 

“…over half of US physicians are using their smartphones for at least 3 hours a day, with almost a quarter of European physicians showing the same level of use…”

 

In the European healthcare arena, the potential for mobile devices – in particular ‘smartphones’ – presents a tantalising opportunity for both hardware and application developers.

Publishers of health information and pharma marketers who cling to print and online mediums will inevitably lose ‘share of voice’ to those who embrace mobile technology to serve this burgeoning audience.

About the author:

Michelle Kelly is Division Head of Market Research at EPG Health Media (part of the IMR International Group), which provides a range of high quality, web-based medical products, communications and marketing solutions. EPG Health Media uses online content delivery and digital communication services to educate and engage audiences from family doctors and specialists to patients, including bespoke solutions based upon 10 years of health sector experience. For more information visit www.epghealthmedia.com or call +44 (0)1892 526776.

To view the abstract or download the full report visit the EPG Health Media site for ‘Smartphone Use in Healthcare: how do smartphones impact healthcare professionals and influence the way they practice?

How will HCPs be using smartphones in 2012?