More of Healthcare Should Be ‘Goin’ Mobile’

Forty-five years ago Pete Townshend, lead guitarist of the fabled rock band The Who, wrote these lyrics:

“...Out in the woods, or in the city, it’s all the same to me.
When I’m driving free, the world’s my home.
When I’m mobile…”

The song “Goin’ Mobile” expressed a young man’s desire to move about freely; allowing him to experience the world in which he was traveling.

According to the research firm Statista, Americans have already gone mobile, albeit in a different way than envisioned by Pete. More than 70 percent of the U.S. population will have a mobile smartphone by 2019. That’s more than two out of every three people carrying in their pockets devices that have millions more times the computing power of the guidance systems used by NASA to get men on the Moon and has graphics capabilities that make those of the famed Cray-1 Supercomputer laughable. They can even go toe to toe with IBM’s Deep Blue computer when it comes to number crunching ability.

Given that mobile technology is more than capable of handling complex tasks, readily available and often the preferred method of communication and information access, why aren’t we seeing broader adoption by the healthcare industry? The reason appears to be the continuing tendency by healthcare to not do anything unless it is forced to because of government pressure or regulatory requirement. Because if they were watching and listening to their patients (who are really customers) healthcare would quickly adopt to the changing landscape as almost every other industry does.

As a result, the way in which provider and patient can communicate digitally has been made more difficult. I’m not about to question the importance of patient information privacy. But I will point out that most healthcare portals, direct byproducts of Meaningful Use Stage 1, reflect software development from the 1990s, well before mobile was even on the radar. They are not mobile-friendly let alone user-friendly. There are a number of companies offering end-to-end email encryption but with user interfaces that match the clunkiness and UI of the portals that look like they were designed for Windows 3.1.

According to Research2Guidance, a market analysis firm, there are 100,000+ healthcare-related mobile apps available for download worldwide. The audience for these apps is approximately 85 percent consumer-focused and 15 percent for the healthcare professional. The consumer apps tend to focus on fitness and self-measurement of biometric functions along with nutrition tracking. The aim is to make health as personal and positive an experience as possible; hence the slow but sure rise of wearable technology.

These apps also bring the consumer health information curated by or for them. For healthcare professionals the apps offer remote access to information found in EHR systems that can be viewed daily, not yearly or quarterly as in the past. This real-time data allows doctors to be more proactive in their treatment and interactions with their patients.

Mobile digital health is growing rapidly, aimed at the consumer and operates like message services between the patient and the doctor to select or with whom there exists a relationship. The patient texts a message and medical counsel, within all appropriate privacy guidelines, is offered in reply. Some, like Doctor on Demand, can link a person to an urgent care physician or psychologist and deal face-to-face virtually from their mobile phones. Others, such as Derm on Demand, shorten the time between asking for an appointment and seeing a provider.

The reason such services are getting traction is they grasp the wants and needs of today’s very mobile patient population. Americans are impatient; they want to know about their health status right away. Suggesting they wait even a few days for test results does not get a good reaction; waiting weeks for an appointment just will not do. And telling them to log on to that kludgy ‘90s-style portal to hunt for information on outcomes or schedules infuriates them.

After all, they look to their mobile devices for everything else. And they’re doing so more and more. Newspapers’ savior may well be the mobile phone as digital circulation is replacing the old paper kind. Take a bus or train at rush hour and eyes are scanning the screens of mobile phones, not turning the pages of the morning gazette. KPCB, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, notes 80 percent of all web searches are done from mobile phones and 51 percent of time spent with digital media is done via a mobile mobile. Internet Retailer reported that mobile ecommerce is growing three times faster than ecommerce overall.

Another data point from Internet Retailer I find especially intriguing is that 30 percent of all e-commerce purchases are now made on a mobile device. PatientPay*, a paperless patient payment solutions company, reports that more than 25 percent of bills being paid via its service are done on mobile phones. Three out of four patients using this service pay their bills immediately upon opening them, in part, because of this convenience.

That’s more than coincidental. Analyst and research firm Aite projects mobile-browser-based payments for healthcare will “explode” with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33% in the next year or so.

A credible argument can’t be made that the technology isn’t available to help reduce the crush in waiting rooms, improve the level and amount of preventative care available, save providers’ operating expense or make the bill-paying experience more along the lines of what healthcare consumers want.

The reason why healthcare isn’t doing more with mobile can be found in the results of a study conducted by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit surveying 150 healthcare leaders from both the public and private sectors.

When asked: Which of the following do you think are currently the biggest challenges for the health industry’s adoption of mobile health technologies? The respondents’ top three answers were:

  1. Institutional bias and conservatism within the healthcare establishment;
  2. The need to ensure patient privacy; and,
  3. Healthcare organizations are not sufficiently technologically sophisticated to be able to draw on mobile technology.

Considering all that goes on within a healthcare facility that uses state of the art technology, reason #3 seems hollow; an excuse not to make the effort. Citing privacy in context with mobile suggests either another empty excuse or a bewildering lack of knowledge as to the ability to maintain privacy in a wireless environment. The top reason, unfortunately, suggests that even the emperor realizes his nakedness. Those surveyed acknowledge they, seemingly, can’t get out of their own way.

If those in the industry opt not to answer this call, the mobile-enabled patient will ring up another provider who does.