Moving from “quantity” to “quality” in mHealth begins by listening to HCPs

In communications, it’s long been the case that those individuals most at-ease with change, who are fleet-of-foot and willing to embrace the latest trends and platforms, are lauded for their foresight in being true innovators and trendsetters.

Yet in healthcare communications, the requirement to practice within an environment that remains heavily regulated has fostered an atmosphere of significant caution and conservatism. As such, individuals who have championed forward-thinking have regularly been dismissed as optimists, at best, and, at worst, reckless and endangering.

But if ever we needed reminding of the absolute necessity to embrace forward-thinking, it’s in the lessons being learned in the digital space and, in particular, mHealth.

Just a few years ago, the merest suggestion that a communications programme targeting healthcare professionals (HCPs) should be tailored for dissemination through mobile devices would have been greeted with derision: “Doctors don’t have smartphones; no one over 50 even knows how to use them!”

And sure, change has been slow. According to a new report by EPG Health Media, in 2010, just 44 percent of doctors in Europe were using a smartphone.

But change can be fast, too. The same report found that, in 2012, ownership of smartphones by doctors in Europe soared to 81 percent. In the U.S., where adoption happened somewhat earlier, smartphone usage has increased from 81 to 91 percent over the past two years.

Those individuals and companies that dared to challenge the status-quo are now in the driver’s seat and may be in a position to reap significant reward. However, “may” is the operative word, with the report also noting that many doctors appear to be finding less work-related value delivered via their smartphones than they did two years ago. Whilst in 2010, more than half of all European doctors were using smartphones for professional services, in 2012, the figure has fallen to just 36 percent. In the US, it’s been static – remaining at just 45 percent.

A key challenge as healthcare communicators is therefore to move from “quantity” to “quality”. We can only achieve this by remembering that “good communication begins with good listening” and, therefore, we must ask and not tell HCPs what mHealth tools they need to better serve their patients and grow as professionals. We must then ensure that the mobile platforms we create are not only relevant, but also credible, insightful and easily accessible.

Things will continue to evolve, with potentially the next big leap forward being in the area of MBANs (medical body area networks) technology and the integration of patient records with real time patient monitoring (more on that in a later post). But in an industry that remains risk-adverse, and with new European regulations now classifying healthcare apps as medical devices, are the hurdles to delivering value-added mobile platforms becoming too great to conquer? Or will increasing regulation actually provide the catalyst for a new generation of high quality and trusted educational and diagnostic mobile content?

Whichever way it ultimately goes, there’s little doubt of significant change ahead.