Mobile Health: The Future of DTC Marketing?

According to Gartner, “Mobile health monitoring will need another five to 10 years before reaching its ‘plateau of productivity’ and steady market adoption.” As more and more people are connecting to the Internet via mobile devices, DTC marketers need a better understanding on how patients are using their mobile devices for health.

According to comScore, 75% of the time users are active on one of their four favorite applications via mobile devices. In a Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey, more than one-third of respondents who are online said they were “very” or “extremely” interested in using smartphones or tablets to ask their doctors’ questions, make appointments or get medical test results. So where does this leave pharma?

First, we need to better understand the definition of “mobile devices.” The experience of surfing the web for health information is quite different on an iPad versus a smartphone, for example. Second, pharma needs to find out where patients are accessing product websites and why. Is it at the point of care, the doctor’s office or when they get a prescription? What information are they looking for and what do they want to know in order to fill their prescriptions and stay compliant?

Finally, we need to separate mobile health from mobile wellness. Users are much more likely to download and use wellness apps that track exercise rather than health, recent research shows. In qualitative research that I recently led, we found that there is a huge gap between what users want in “mobile health” and what’s being offered. In order for any application to have high utility it has to be both user-friendly and easy to maintain. This means testing and development for all platforms including OS X, Android and Windows.

My research also shows that there is a huge difference between disease states when it comes to mobile health. Some patients don’t want apps to remind them that they have chronic conditions, while others are open to apps to manage their health if it empowers them to better manage their health problem.

A survey done by Royal Philips Electronics revealed that about one-quarter of Americans trust mHealth apps as much as they would trust their doctor. The survey also showed that about 27% of those surveyed use mobile apps instead of going to the doctor. An even more interesting fact: One in 10 of those surveyed felt that if it were not for web-based health information, they might already be dead or severely incapacitated. With the number of unregulated mobile health apps out there, this could represent a challenge to ensuring that patients get good quality care.

DTC marketers should start building capabilities now for mobile health rather than taking a wait and see stance. The first step is to get out and do some research with your target audience, then develop prototypes for further testing. In research, we let group study participants design what they felt was the perfect mobile app and it encompassed a lot, including the ability to share information with their physician.

Mobile health might be just a small light down the road, but that light is going to burn brighter as more and more people want and need patient-centered healthcare.

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof dtcmarketing.com and www.newmediaand marketing.com. He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.

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