Docs and Their Devices

Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are ubiquitous in modern culture in almost every part of the world. It’s hard to imagine the days when we couldn’t just reach into our pocket and check email or our calendar, or look up some obscure fact as we banter with friends at a party. Many of us text more often than we actually talk on the phone and most of us know at least one or two people who have all but abandoned their work computer in favor of the mobile version of popular office software.

At work, most pharma marketers and agency personnel find themselves up to their ears in mobile-focused marketing initiatives that range from rep-delivered media presented on a tablet in the physician’s office to a host of mobile apps aimed at patients and providers. Every pharma company seems to have a host of “mobile” projects, so it’s easy to assume that everything “digital” is mobile.  Unfortunately, that logic can lead to some flawed assumptions about how to best engage physicians and their staff.

We were curious about how physicians were using technology during their workday, including their use of both their EMRs (which are now used by well over 70% of all office-based physicians) and those seemingly ever-present mobile devices. The answers might surprise you, but they certainly make a difference in terms of how pharma marketers should think about engaging physicians at work.

How Mobile Are Physicians?

First, we looked at how physicians use their mobile devices at work compared to personal use. Surprisingly (given all the attention placed on mobile by so many marketers), 65% of physicians reported that they never use their smartphone to access information found in their EMR. Considering the importance of the EMR in the modern practice of medicine, this might surprise some marketers.

But EMRs have not, for the most part, tackled the complex challenges of presenting the dense health information from the EMR into a form accessible via a smartphone to review, much less interact with, EMR-based information. Screen size certainly plays a part in this, even with the trend toward phones that barely fit in one’s pocket. But other factors, such as a lack of responsive design in many EMR web interfaces and concerns about data security, also likely play a part.

Conversely, many of our physician survey respondents report that they do use their smartphones for some type of professional purpose rather frequently. On a daily basis, 55% report using their smartphone as part of their profession, while only 20% said that they never did so. But clearly, that use was not common within their EMR. With the expectation that practice-focused tools such as reference information and calculators will be located within the EMR itself (see our column in the February 2015 issue for more on this), we suspect that physicians will increasingly use their mobile devices to look up certain types of information they want to access outside of patient encounters and when they are not directly in front of their EMR. Using professional social media and catching up on professional journals might be two of these uses. But the phone is not the primary EMR device just yet, and that’s not likely to change soon.

Ah, so they must be using tablet devices, you say? Sorry, but no. Fully 61% report never using a tablet with their EMR, and only 16% report doing so on a daily basis. This means that tablets are not the primary EMR device despite their portability and larger screen.

Interestingly, physicians are somewhat split on the professional use of tablets outside the EMR. While 30% reported using the tablet every day for non-EMR professional purposes, 34% said they never did so. Thus, designing for tablets seems to be a good idea for rep-delivered content, but hardly the best investment for content to be consumed within the EMR.

The Devices That Reign Supreme—For Now

So what devices are used the most by physicians as they engage in their profession? For both EMR-centered use and non-EMR professional pursuits, physicians overwhelmingly report using a laptop or desktop. The majority, at 85%, said they use either a laptop or a desktop on a daily basis to access their EMR, and 76% reported daily use for other, non-EMR professional purposes.

So, what are the implications of all this for pharma marketers? To start, it certainly makes sense to direct focus toward EMR delivery of information, particularly content that the physician can use to bolster their relationship with the patient and improve their workflow. But it may not make sense to focus too much time and resources into retrofitting existing mobile content into content for the EMR—at least today.

Instead, it may make sense for marketers to allow firms that specialize in EMR messaging to help them design content for the EMR. That does not mean marketers shouldn’t be developing professional content for mobile, of course! It just means that “digital” is certainly more than just mobile, and that content designed for one screen may not be right for another. When seeking to engage physicians and other healthcare professionals, both context and content matter—and both must be considered.

It also means that the situation today may not be the situation in two or three years. Of our survey respondents who do not currently have mobile capabilities within their EMR, 61% said that they wanted to be able to access their system using a mobile device, and 41% say that their system does offer a version of the EMR optimized for mobile use. But of those, only 40% are actually using it, while another 24% said they expect to do so within 24 months. This is clearly an evolving landscape, and it pays to understand the trends.

  • Mark Heinold

    Mark Heinold is CEO of PDR, the largest EMR and digital communications network. PDR connects prescribers, pharmacists and patients to improve health outcomes through targeted communications, and is the publisher of the renowned Physicians Desk Reference. PDR delivers health information designed to positively improve health behaviors through a variety of digital, office-based and pharmacy-based channels.


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