Understanding the Importance of Mobile Health for Pharma
Mobile health (mHealth) may be the buzzword of today, but this one will not be just another flash in the pan. The importance of Mobile health is that it offers the life sciences industry far-reaching capabilities to connect with various stakeholders – from patients and caregivers to physicians and pharmacists. This connectivity makes mobile health a valuable tool not likely to be dispensed with anytime soon. Projections show the mobile health industry increasing dramatically: research2guidance found that the global smartphone mHealth app market increased by a factor of 7 from 2010 to 2011, reaching $718 million (USD). This growth is predicted to continue. PwC India projects that the mHealth market will be worth $23 billion by 2017. So what is it about mHealth that is going to fundamentally change healthcare?
(This is part 1 of our new white paper, “Understanding the Importance of Mobile Health for Pharma,” based on preliminary research for our current mHealth study. To participate in the study and receive complementary findings, visit www.mobilehealthsurvey.com .)
Part 1: The Technology is Here – Let’s Use It
The Internet grants greater access to medical services than ever before. Over a third (35%) of the world had access to the internet in 2011, as compared to 18% in 2006, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Much of this growth is seen in developed markets, stemming from increasingly advanced infrastructure for broadband systems as well as decreasing broadband prices. A large portion of these Internet users seek medical information online. Indeed, a study by the Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation found that 80% of Internet users in the US go online to research medical information.
Beyond Internet use, mobile-cellular use is also growing: there are 5.9 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions globally (ITU). (Caution: This does not translate to 5.9 billion people with mobile-cellular subscriptions, as many people have multiple cellular devices.) In fact, the majority (88%) of American adults have a mobile phone, and of those, over half (53%) are smartphone owners (Pew Internet). Mobile phone access is also prominent in developing countries. NPR notes that, according to India’s census, 60% of households in India have a mobile phone, whereas only 36.4% have toilets.
Smartphones are not required for mobile health initiatives, because text message campaigns (which do not require smartphones) can be highly effective. Yet many cell phone users do have plans including Internet access. In mid-2011, there were almost 1.2 billion active mobile-broadband subscriptions (ITU). Across all countries, the global average for active mobile-broadband subscriptions is about 15%. South Korea has the highest penetration rate at 91%. In contrast, the US and Europe each have an average of 54% of active mobile-broadband subscriptions. Some of these mobile users actively seek out medical information with their devices. Of all US cell phone users, 17% research health-related information on their mobile device (Pew Internet).
Working within the parameters of different markets and having a firm understanding of the technologies available are paramount to the success of a company’s mobile health strategy. The widely varying degrees of access that individuals in different markets have to mobile technologies have large implications for mobile initiatives. For example, companies may want to consider the average broadband speed for a region’s Internet users. Developed countries typically have speeds of at least over 2 Mbit/s (ITU). Again, the Republic of Korea leads the way with speeds of 10 Mbit/s or higher, followed by Bulgaria, Portugal, the United Kingdom and France. At the low end of the spectrum, the majority of people in countries such as in Tunisia, Jordan, Mongolia and Ghana have access to speeds less than 2 Mbit/s.
These different factors directly impact a company’s launch strategy for mobile health initiatives. If companies create advanced mobile health initiatives designed to target populations in these regions, they should be mindful of these varying speeds and their impact on the program’s ease of use. For example, if a company designs an app that requires high speeds, that app will likely not be successful in markets without high-speed Internet access. In such markets, more simplified tools will likely be more effective.
It is important companies do not ignore these countries without high-speed Internet access, however. Even basic initiatives can have far-reaching effects. For example, a large text message reminder program designed to encourage parents to vaccinate their children from the flu virus has been effective (albeit slowly at first), as shown in study results reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
For parts 2 and 3, please download the full “Understanding the Importance of Mobile Health for Pharma” white paper.