May 22, 2013
Guest Blog by Michael Esquivel, Partner Fenwick & West
About half of patients believe mobile health technologies (or mHealth) will improve and help them manage their healthcare. However, only 27% of physicians encourage patients to use mobile health applications while another 13% percent of physicians actively discourage patients from their use.
While doctors are slow to recommend or prescribe apps for patients, 59% believe it is inevitable that mobile health products will play a role in healthcare delivery, though doctors anticipate adoption will be slower than patients expect.
First is the conservative culture of the medical profession. Healthcare delivery is evolving rapidly and the central role of doctors is being eclipsed. Healthcare providers, however, are rightly cautious about changing protocols where human health is involved.
Second is the size and complexity of the healthcare system. In countries with nationalized healthcare new technologies face daunting bureaucratic hurdles. In countries with multiple payers and providers, gaining adoption means winning over dozens of disparate payer and provider groups.
The third barrier is technology. Doctors and payers both express concern about protecting patient privacy in a mobile environment. And many physician groups lack the technology infrastructure to support mobile apps. Only about half of the doctors surveyed believed that their workplace IT systems were adequate for the task, and far fewer supported the idea that their IT systems could integrate with other clinics and hospitals.
But as is often the case with new technologies, emerging markets are leading the charge when it comes to the adoption of mobile health technologies. Patients in emerging markets are much more likely to be aware of mHealth products and to have had direct experience with them.
Emerging markets lack the legacy practices and technologies that can slow adoption in developed economies. And mobile technology is already the primary communications tool in emerging markets. Additionally, remote population centers lacking infrastructure are natural markets for mHealth. Finally, the ratio of doctors to patients in developing markets is much lower than in developed countries, so there is a strong motivation on the part of both patients and clinicians to employ technology to leverage the available medical resources.
There is an important lesson here for economies that are struggling to contain healthcare costs. Mobile health technologies can reduce costs and increase access when it comes to many routine healthcare issues that conventionally required a visit to the doctor – particularly monitoring chronic conditions. But it is a disruptive change that challenges some powerful stakeholders. The good news is that consumers are pushing for greater access to mobile tools to manage their health, so providers and payers have a strong incentive to evolve and adapt.
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