Can Healthcare Keep up with Mobility?

By Lori Castle, Editor — August 16, 2012

Consumers are ready to adopt mobile health faster than the health industry is prepared to adapt, finds a PwC Study on widespread adoption of mobile technology in healthcare. This is particularly true when it comes to the use of apps. Is this lag in consumer focused apps also an indicator that the enterprise is lagging behind when it comes to the business side of mHealth?

The study, “Emerging mHealth: Paths for Growth,” was conducted for PwC Global Healthcare by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and found that consumers have high expectations for mHealth, particularly in developing economies as mobile cellular 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.

On both the patient and enterprise side, an initial part of the expected improvement comes from creating an electronic health records system (EHR). Back in 2008, the federal government issued “The ONC-Coordinated Federal Health IT Strategic Plan,” an edict which called for “progress toward a nationwide, secure, interoperable health IT infrastructure and the Presidential target for the majority of Americans having access to electronic health records (EHRs) by 2014.”

Since then, adoption has been on the rise, but there is still a ways to go according to a 2012 report to Congress prepared by the ONC. About 34% of non-hospital-based physicians have adopted a “basic” EHR, approximately 40% of primary care physicians have a basic EHR and hospital adoption of EHRs increased by 50% percent.

For those who have a system in place, it seems, however, they may be more inclined to use technology and are embracing mobility. A recent national survey from the ONC of office-based physicians reported that they had accessed a patient’s chart remotely within the past 30 days.

Technology vs. the Systems

According to PwC, if the promise of mHealth is realized by consumers, the impact on healthcare delivery could be significant and fundamentally alter traditional relationships within the healthcare industry. The use of mHealth and speed of adoption will be determined in each country by stakeholders' response to mHealth as a disruptive innovation to overcome structural impediments and align interests around patients' needs and expectations.

"Despite demand and the obvious potential benefits of mHealth, rapid adoption is not yet occurring. The main barriers are not the technology but rather systemic to healthcare and inherent resistance to change," said David Levy, MD, Global Healthcare Leader, PwC. "Though many people think mobile health will be ancillary or bolted onto 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."

In the report, the EIU examines 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. The report includes findings of two surveys conducted by the EIU: one of consumers and one of physicians and government and private payers in 10 markets, including Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S.

Consumer Perception

•    46% of consumers predict that within the next three years, mHealth will improve the convenience, cost (52%) and quality (47%) of their healthcare
•    59% of emerging market patients use at least one mHealth application or service, compared with 35% in the developed world
•    48% said they expect mHealth will change the way they manage chronic conditions, medication (48%) and overall health (49%)
•    Six in 10 consumers expect mHealth to change the way they seek information on health issues; 45% expect it to change the way they communicate with physicians
•    Among consumers who already are using mHealth services, 59% said they have replaced some visits to doctors or nurses

The top three reasons consumers want to use mHealth is to have more convenient access to their doctor or healthcare provider to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs and to take greater control over their health.

Sixty percent of consumers said they believe doctors are not as interested in mHealth as patients and technology companies are.

What the Doctors & Payers Say

•    64% of physicians and payers said that mHealth offers exciting possibilities but there are too few proven business models
•    Only 27% encourage patients to use mHealth apps to become more active in managing their health, and 13% actually discourage it
•    42% worry that mHealth will make patients too independent.
•    42% of payers compared to 25% of physicians encourage patients to let doctors monitor their health and activities using mHealth services and devices


Payers and providers both cited multiple barriers to the adoption of mHealth, notably the complexity and scope of change associated with mHealth. Public sector doctors and payers cited lack of existing technology as the biggest barrier to greater use of mHealth adoption.

•    63% of physicians in the private sector versus only 40% in the public sector have access to wireless connectivity at work
•    45% of doctors and payers said that the application of inappropriate regulations originally developed for earlier technologies is slowing the adoption of mHealth.
•    27% of doctors and 26% of payers – cite an inherently conservative culture as a leading barrier to the adoption of mHealth

"The adoption of mobile health in emerging markets versus developed markets is a paradox," said Christopher Wasden, Ed.D., Global Healthcare Innovation Leader, PwC. "In developed markets, mHealth is perceived as disrupting the status quo, whereas in emerging countries it is seen as creating a new market, full of opportunity and growth potential. In younger, developing economies, healthcare is less constrained by healthcare infrastructure and entrenched interests. Consumers are more likely to use mobile devices and mHealth applications, and more payers are willing to cover the cost of mHealth services."

Advice to Technology Providers

According to PwC, innovators seeking opportunities in mHealth, including telecommunications and technology companies, must work to overcome the barriers slowing widespread adoption of mHealth. They can help to alleviate healthcare's resistance to change by focusing less on the technology and more on effective, customer-focused and enterprise solutions that add value for health organizations and patient quality of life.


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