Widespread adoption of mobile technology in healthcare, or mHealth, is now viewed as inevitable in both developed and emerging markets around the world, but the pace of adoption will likely be led by emerging markets and lag consumer demand, according to a recent global study conducted for PwC Global Healthcare by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The ground breaking study, Emerging mHealth: paths for growth, 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.
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 on to 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 UK and the US.
The survey found:
- Roughly one-half of consumers predict that within the next three years, mHealth will improve the convenience (46 percent), cost (52 percent) and quality (48 percent) of their healthcare
- Fifty-nine percent of emerging market patients use at least one mHealth application or service, compared with 35 percent in the developed world.
- Nearly half of consumers said they expect mHealth will change the way they manage chronic conditions (48 percent), their medication (48 percent) and their overall health (49 percent).
- Six in ten consumers (59 percent) expect mHealth to change the way they seek information on health issues and 48 percent expect it to change the way they communicate with physicians.
- Among consumers who already are using mHealth services, 59 percent 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 (46 percent), to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs (43 percent) and to take greater control over their health (32 percent).
- Sixty percent of consumers said they believe doctors are not as interested in mHealth as patients and technology companies are.
- The study found that physicians and payers are more cautious than consumers in their outlook for mHealth. Specifically:
- Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of doctors and payers said that mHealth offers exciting possibilities but there are too few proven business models.
- In addition, the effectiveness of mHealth changing patient behaviour is evolving. For example, more than two-thirds of consumer respondents who have used mHealth wellness or fitness applications with manual data entry discontinued it after the first six months.
- Only 27 percent of physicians encourage patients to use mHealth applications to become more active in managing their health, and 13 percent of physicians actually discourage it
- Forty-two percent of doctors surveyed worry that mHealth will make patients too independent.
- Payers appear to be far more supportive of mHealth than physicians. Forty percent of payers compared to 25 percent 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.
- Sixty-three percent of physicians in the private sector versus only 40 percent in the public sector have access to wireless connectivity at work.
- Forty-five percent of doctors and payers said that the application of inappropriate regulations originally developed for earlier technologies is slowing the adoption of mHealth.
- More than one quarter – 27 percent of doctors and 26 percent 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, EdD, 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."
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 solutions that add value for health organizations and patient quality of life.
In its analysis, PwC identifies strategic considerations for companies active in the mHealth arena. In addition, PwC will publish a series of insights over the next several months on the evolving mHealth landscape with perspective on what it means for stakeholders, including government and regulators, pharmaceutical and life science companies, payers and providers.
For additional information or to view the “Emerging mHealth report”, click on the link.