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Survey Reveals Opportunities, Hesitancies in Patient mHealth Views

Smartphone users surveyed by Ketchum Global Research and Analytics said they have shared information with a medical professional using a smartphone, mobile app or wearable device.

By Nathan Boroyan

- mHealth use is widespread among American patients, but there are still opportunities for providers and vendors to encourage hesitant consumers to use innovative mobile health devices and artificial intelligence apps to monitor and improve their health, according to a new mHealth survey from Ketchum Global Research and Analytics.

Ketchum mHealth Monitor survey

The firm surveyed 2,000 smartphone owners in April 2016 for its Ketchum mHealth Monitor, which maps consumer use of wearable technology, apps and artificial intelligence (AI) for health and fitness.

A majority (58 percent) of surveyed smartphone owners said they have shared information with a medical professional online, using a smartphone, mobile app or wearable device; one in four users have e-mailed or texted a picture of a medical issue to their provider.

Forty-seven percent of respondents have an app for tracking fitness, workouts, health or medicine, and 83 percent of fitness or workout app users use them at least once per week, according to the study.

"This study points to a shift in people's attitudes and readiness to use technology to manage their health," said Lisa Sullivan, executive vice president and North American technology practice leader for Ketchum. "With U.S. smartphone adoption at 68 percent, now is the time for businesses that have a stake in the healthcare industry to push to develop approachable, intuitive mobile tech offerings that help the ever-increasing mobile user population improve something as personal and important as their health."

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Respondents were also asked about how they felt using AI for health and wellness monitoring. Thirty-nine percent said they are comfortable using AI capabilities and 32 percent said they are likely to use a tool such as Siri. Respondents were less likely to use an AI medical adviser (18 percent) or therapist (9 percent).

The study found a few hurdles for businesses looking to leverage mHealth technology. For example, 24 percent of Americans said health and fitness tracking apps have made them feel bad, and 21 percent have stopped using certain apps. Additionally, a majority (63 percent) said they prefer interacting with their providers face-to-face.

However, the study found that there is an opportunity to educate patients on the use of mobile technology. According to the study, 51 percent of respondents felt they have a lot to learn about the benefits of mHealth on their health and wellness.

"In addition to improving patient experiences, mHealth technology also has the potential to help offset some of the rising costs of healthcare," added Sullivan. "Studies have shown correlations between leveraging mobile apps for patients with chronic diseases and cost savings, so the power of mHealth can truly be quantified in a way that makes sense for a company's bottom line."

Ketchum researchers also identified five different types of users, based on current attitudes toward mHealth, health behaviors and overall mHealth adoption.

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"The aim is to gain a better understanding of people's likes, dislikes and general habits when it comes to mHealth and identify opportunities to make it easier and more convenient for people to manage their health and wellness through mobile devices or fitness trackers," the authors wrote.

"Discerning digitals" love being constantly connected, but may struggle with feeling too available, the authors wrote. This group advocates for mHealth but still likes interacting with their providers face-to-face.

Those who want to expand their smartphone use fall into the "swayable seekers" group. This group is confident about managing their health and uses the internet for a bulk of their medical information. However, a majority believe they have a lot to learn about mHealth use.

Another group authors identified admits to poor health self-management and are not happy with their physical well-being. These "health tech hesitators" may not be comfortable sharing their information online, authors wrote.

"App-athetic agnostics" love mobile technology but many don't use mHealth tools, "nor do they care to in the next year," the report said.

READ MORE: Rural Telehealth Use Rises, But Challenges for PCPs Remain

A final group of traditionalists is described as "low-tech lifers." This group doesn't think mHealth has or ever will make a positive impact on their lives.

"Our mHealth Monitor provides an important look into how both human and system behavior are rapidly changing and converging to connect health management," said Valerie Delva, health strategy director for Ketchum North America. "Though current attitudes toward using mobile technologies for health at the individual level are quite complex, the insights here also speak to broader trends in the health ecosystem and the potential for these technologies to help improve health outcomes."

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