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Is Smartphone Use Encouraging Mobile Health Adoption?

Brian Eastwood | Jan. 8, 2013
A recent Pew Internet study suggests that rising smartphone adoption in the United States seems to be motivating people to use mobile health. Few question the potential for mHealth to change the healthcare industry, though technical and bureaucratic barriers--not to mention reluctant patients and physicians--stand in the way.

As Americans continue to buy smartphones, they are using mobile health more than ever, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.

The Mobile Health 2012 report, released last month after surveying more than 3,000 adults in August and September, found that 45 percent of Americans own smartphones, with those in urban areas, with a college education and an annual income of more than $75,000 most likely to own a smartphone.

In all, 52 per cent of smartphone owners use the device to look up medical information, and 19 per cent of smartphone users have downloaded a mobile health application. Women are more likely than men (by a narrow margin) to use their smartphone to look up medical information; those under 50, on the other hand, are more than four times as likely to do so than those over 65.

Mobile Health's Potential: Improve Care, Reduce Disparity

The Health Resources and Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines mobile health, abbreviated mHealth, as "the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services and health research."

Mobile health proponents say mHealth should improve patient engagement and safety, if for no other reason than the fact that patients are more likely to interact with a smartphone app than a stack of discharge papers. Over time, too, smartphone geolocation functionality could be used to reduce Medicare fraud, which costs the United States $60 billion a year, by matching Medicare claims with date, time and location data.

However, mHealth's greatest potential may be helping reduce healthcare disparities in the United States in two ways:

First, minority populations are at a higher risk for infant mortality, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which is coupled with lower rates of immunization and cancer screening. Pew's findings indicate that Hispanic and African-American smartphone owners are more likely than whites smartphone owners to look up medical information. African-Americans are also more likely than whites to use an mHealth app and receive medical information via text message.

Second, those "underserved" by the healthcare industry-including but not limited to rural residents, senior citizens, the disabled and those below the poverty line-often lack access to care. The vast majority say they would connect with a physician online, though, as it would save them the time, trouble and cost of a doctor's visit. To that end, the Federal Communications Commission's Consumer Advisory Committee wants to make sure the FCC's mHealth Task Force represents underserved Americans as it pursues its goal "that mHealth technology be a routine medical best practice within five years."

Mobile Health's Reality: Slow Adoption


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