Mobile is global but docs aren't too keen: PwC

An international study into the emerging market of mobile health (mHealth) has found that while the majority of consumers believe mobile technology will improve the convenience, cost and quality of their healthcare, doctors were reluctant to encourage patient use of mHealth and a large minority believed it would make patients too independent.

The study, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on behalf of PricewaterhouseCoopers' global healthcare division, involved two surveys – one of consumers and one of doctors and government and private payers – in 10 markets covering the majority of the world's population. Countries surveyed included Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US.

The EIU examined the current state and potential of mHealth – defined as the provision of healthcare or health-related information through the use of mobile devices – and the barriers to adoption and opportunities for companies seeking growth in the mHealth market.

It found that roughly one-half of consumers predict that within the next three years, mHealth will improve the convenience (46 per cent), cost (52 per cent) and quality (48 per cent) of their healthcare.

Surprisingly perhaps, it was consumers in emerging markets who most used mobile services, with 59 per cent having used at least one mHealth application or service, compared with 35 per cent in the developed world.

Nearly half of consumers said they expect mHealth to change the way they manage chronic conditions (48 per cent), their medication (48 per cent) and their overall health (49 per cent). Most expect mHealth to change the way they seek information on health issues and and half expect it to change the way they communicate with doctors.

Among consumers who are already using mHealth services, 59 per cent said they have replaced visits to doctors or nurses through mHealth.

Doctors and payers, on the other hand, were far more cautious in their outlook, the report found.

“Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of doctors and payers said that mHealth offers exciting possibilities but there are too few proven business models,” it found. “In addition, the effectiveness of mHealth changing patient behaviour is evolving. For example, more than two-thirds of consumer respondents who have used mHealth wellness or fitness applications with manual data entry discontinued it after the first six months.”

The report also found that:

  • Only 27 per cent of physicians encourage patients to use mHealth applications to become more active in managing their health, and 13 per cent of physicians actually discourage it.
  • 42 per cent percent of doctors surveyed worry that mHealth will make patients too independent.
  • Public sector doctors and payers cited lack of existing technology as the biggest barrier to greater use of mHealth adoption.
  • 45 per cent of doctors and payers said that the application of inappropriate regulations originally developed for earlier technologies is slowing the adoption of mHealth.
  • More than one quarter – 27 per cent of doctors and 26 per cent of payers – cite an inherently conservative culture as a leading barrier to the adoption of mHealth.

The study, Emerging mHealth: paths for growth, found that consumers have high expectations for mHealth, particularly in developing economies as mobile subscriptions there become ubiquitous. In emerging markets, consumers perceive mHealth as a way to increase access to healthcare while patients in developed markets see it as a way to improve the convenience, cost and quality of healthcare.

According to PwC, if the promise of mHealth is realised by consumers, the impact on healthcare delivery could be significant and fundamentally alter traditional relationships within the healthcare industry.

“Despite demand and the obvious potential benefits of mHealth, rapid adoption is not yet occurring,” PwC's global healthcare leader, David Levy, said in a statement.

“The main barriers are not the technology but rather systemic to healthcare and inherent resistance to change. Though many people think mobile health will be ancillary or bolted on to the healthcare industry, we look at it differently: mHealth is the future of healthcare, deeply integrated into delivery that will be better, faster, less expensive and far more customer-focused.”

PwC will publish a series of insights over the next several months on the evolving mHealth landscape with perspectives on what it means for stakeholders, including government and regulators, pharmaceutical and life science companies, payers and providers.

A full copy of the EIU report is available for download at www.pwc.com/mhealth.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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