Medicine In The Digital Era

With new devices constantly appearing on the market at a new speed, it is safe to say that the digital era has arrived. It also consumed the medical field with physicians enjoying the perks of having mobile access to the enormous amount of knowledge required while practicing medicine. While it was long obvious that mobile applications and devices influenced doctors in a major way, a recent infographic about U.S. hospitals and healthcare professionals included surprising numbers to prove just how much they became an integral part of practices.

According to the data below, more than 2 in 5 physicians go online during a patient’s visit mostly for drug references, new publications, disease associations or to look for a support group for patients. The most convincing fact was the high rate of doctors using consulting applications with 94% of them turning to these for information. The infographic also suggests that other mobile based technologies are welcomed as well. For example 86% of physicians are interested in accessing electronic health records, while 83% of them would like to use these devices as prescription tools.

The data also highlights the fact that more and more doctors go on social sites for professional reasons. At the 1188 hospitals observed Facebook seemed the most popular with 1018 pages created. These healthcare facilities shared overall 548 Youtube channels, 788 Twitter accounts and 458 LinkedIn profiles. One thing that stood out was the relatively low number of hospital blogs with only 137 listed for all 1188 hospitals. Despite the fewer blogs in these organizations, the infographic states that blogs are actually favored by doctors compared to private online physician communities.

The numbers once again show the significance of the “mobile movement” among healthcare professionals. Maybe this magnitude is why the FDA, while usually slow in similar cases, felt the urgency to address this phenomenon with its draft guidance for mobile medical applications.



Non-Adherence – There’s An App For That

I was very surprised to read a blog post the other day about how mobile applications to increase compliance are “intrusive” and how the whole concept is shortsighted. After stating what an enormous problem non-adherence is, I think the only reasonable conclusion could be to try every possible tool to help patients stay on the right medicine regiment. When non-adherence causes 89,000 deaths and $100 billion dollars every year in hospital costs only in the United States we simply cannot turn our backs on a solution because of some negative reaction without further observation.

The post also mentions a study about an application for patients with Type 2 diabetes, that reportedly failed to provide help and was rather annoying in the eyes of the participants. There are no numbers or percentages to really measure how unsuccessful the experiment turned out to be, only a few examples of negative feedback to prove and emphasize how “aggressive” these applications are.

I however agree with the statement, that there isn’t one solution that is going to magically solve the problem of non-adherence. It has to be a very balanced mix of different components, that in the end help patients (and their physicians) with the dosages and tracking of medications. But I also believe that a smart and easy-to-use application could be a complimentary element in the mix. The article quotes the New England Journal of Medicine and its list of tools that could help increase patient compliance: tracking prescriptions, paying providers based on outcomes or having lower co-payments. As I said before, the fight against non-adherence has to combine different but equally important elements, so an app wouldn’t make these changes unnecessary. But all fails if patients don’t remember to take their medication.

The blog post includes a list of automated pill dispensers as the possible solutions to increase compliance. Here is one example:

The SIMpill Medication Adherence System text-messages the patient’s mobile phone if the patient does not take their medication or takes it at the incorrect time. If the patient still does not take their medication, an alert can be sent to their caregiver or healthcare provider. The system also monitors prescription refills and alerts the pharmacy when the patient is running low.

While I think this is a complex and wonderful solution of the problem, I can’t understand how a mobile application could be more “intrusive” than this. How can one state that an app is too aggressive and poorly perceived and then list automated tools with alarms, messages and alerts not only to the patients but to their providers. We can’t just say no to a possible solution because it didn’t work for a group of people. With adherence different methods work for different patients. That is why there is a great need for the invention of several complex applications and solutions, so everyone could choose what fits them best.

(Source: World of DTC Marketing)

Mobile Email Marketing – User Habits To Consider

More and more people access their email account from their smartphones – and this fact should be considered when sending out newsletters.

Of the 6.9 Billion people on the world today 5.2 Billion own a mobile phone. To put that into perspective: of the world’s population 1.6 Billion people own a TV, 1.2 Billion own computers and 1 Billion own cars. So to say that mobile email marketing has a great potential is an understatement. But to create an effective strategy, we need to know how people use their mobile devices.

According to an analysis published by Google, from 89% of smartphone users who took part in the study 82% stated, that they use email applications on their devices regularly. Another research conducted in London’s e-Dialog office supports the previous findings suggesting that reading and sending emails on mobile phones are common activities, especially among younger users. Also, the study states that email marketing is clearly more effective with those having a smartphone compared to those who own mobiles with basic features. One of the key elements to a successful email marketing campaign is investing great efforts into usability. Easy to use applications and easy to view messages result in higher engagement whereas problems with usability is often the reason for lack of success.

The infographic summarizes the findings of the study on mobile habits by e-Dialog:


(Source: The Relevant Marketer, Marketing Morzsák)

The Future Generation Of Online Physicians

A recent blog post on made me feel more hopeful than ever about the future of online health. The post published by Jin Packard, a 1st year medical student proved to me that in a few years we won’t have to talk about IF online presence is important, but rather about HOW a physician’s online profile could be perfected.

If you are in medical school chances are you spent your high school years checking Facebook on a daily basis, connecting with your friends online and sharing content that you found interesting. In this case your question is not going to be whether you need an online profile, but how you can enter the professional world and yet keep your online presence appropriate and manageable.

I’m not saying it is without difficulties. I’m not even saying medical students only have advantages because they are comfortable using social media sites. It could be just as hard fitting your previous online activity in a different environment (professional that is) as starting to build your online presence from scratch. Because either way you have to make sure, the digital footprint you leave behind is not going to haunt you later. With a longer period of time spent online that footprint could get bigger and bigger. And honestly, who considers the consequences of a Facebook picture in 10th grade?

Reading the thoughts of a medical student on the professional use of social media is inspiring. Not just because the post raises important questions about recent issues in social media. But because it shows the possibility of a great new generation of online physicians.

Check out Jin Packard’s blog, the Fresh White Coat for more interesting and exciting articles.


The World Of An Offline Physician

There are more and more articles surfacing on physicians’ online presence and how doctors could become irrelevant with staying away from online platforms and social media. In a time when almost every patient comes to the office with diagnoses printed out from Google, when you have to consider providing patient health record online, when your colleagues get the latest news in medicine on their smartphones while you wait for the latest journal to be published – I don’t quite understand why anyone has to be convinced that online presence and being up-to-date with the latest mobile technologies are crucial.

But let’s get back to the examples. It is a well-known fact that patients Google their symptoms. They look for treatment options and find other people with similar conditions online. They connect and exchange information. It is also not hard to imagine how much false information could be published online. The accurate data could be misinterpreted, misplaced or in some cases accuracy is not there to begin with. Chances are that your patient is going to come to the office with numerous questions about what he/she read online. Some of them will be convinced that online information is sacred and always right on point. If you are not familiar with the medical information published online, how are you going to prove your point? How are you going to respond to the patient asking about a treatment that thousands of people blog about but you have never heard of.

How are you going to keep up with your colleagues when in your coffee break they talk about the newest medical application that allows them to look up drug interactions in a few seconds? How do you stay on top of your life long studying if only a fraction of the information is available to you because you refuse to add online content to your sources? How are you going to recommend easy to use medical applications to monitor health to your patients when you still can’t use the application store and never downloaded a health app?

How are you going to compete with other practices that connect with patients online. How are you going to keep up with doctors who have hundreds of followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook. How are you going to get hired when the other applicants have a detailed LinkedIn page and connected with their future boss online a long time ago.

I’m not saying you know less as a doctor without an online presence or a smartphone. I’m only saying that your knowledge can’t be used as effectively simply because you don’t use the channels that patients use. Your knowledge has to be communicated to benefit patients, therefore you have to go where patients are. They are surfing the net, using health apps and social media platforms to get the most valuable medical information. Also, you have to stay connected with your fellow physicians who more and more go online to stay informed and make their careers a successful one.


Conferences – Members Of The Audience, Please Don’t Turn Off Your Mobile Devices

Remember the days when you were asked to turn off your phone at a conference before the speaker went on stage? Remember when texting during a speech was considered rude? It feels like talking about ancient times, doesn’t it?

And while first I thought using phones and other devices in conferences would be distracting I got used to the idea. Social media gave numerous reasons to make phones and tablets justified and  helpful.

  1. With these devices the audience can keep others informed who couldn’t attend the conference or chose another speaker to listen to. There are so many conferences and so little time. Not to mention travel expenses and attendance fees. It is comforting to know that you don’t have to miss everything just because there’s an ocean between you and an exciting conference.
  2. With tweeting and posting about a presentation the audience can instantly give feedback and the can share their thoughts and first impressions. This could be very helpful for speakers and also thought-provoking for other attendees. This way several conversations can happen simultaneously.
  3. And the discussion doesn’t have to end with the usual Q&A segment at the end of the lecture. The conversation can keep going days after the conference ended.
  4. With using a hashtag during a conference it is easy to have an instant abstract of the presentations. You can have everything summarized: comments and conversations, links to presentations and handouts.

The only downside? This way there are many more conferences and still so little time.

Technology In The Everyday Life Of Physicians

No matter how far doctors are in their medical career, technology is the most talked about topic in their everyday life. After reading so many articles on different inventions and devices, this shouldn’t be surprising. Still, it amazes me how deeply technology is integrated in healthcare.

This past weekend I witnessed many conversations about the adoption of various technologies in medicine. Starting at the very beginning of medical school where the education office no longer provides a paper sheet with all the class information on it. It is easier, faster and not to mention more eco-friendly to post the students’ schedule in the form of a Google calendar. This way they can sync that with their iPhones, maybe setting alarms for the most important project deadlines and lectures. That is if they actually attend, which they are no longer obligated to in some cases. They can stream a class as a webinar if they decide, that it’s more comfortable taking notes from the “comfort” of their dorm room.

Later on future doctors can appreciate technology even more. They are not only able to quickly look up data on their smartphones just before presenting a case to the fellow but their chances get better at getting higher scores on exams. When it comes to the boards, no student wants to fail because of their lousy handwriting. Well, these days they don’t have to worry about that. More and more hospitals switch to electronic charts. It is beyond useful when stressed out medical students take their exam. Because let’s face it: who has time to worry about perfect letters when they only have 15 minutes to take a patient’s history and do a physical exam.

But we have to be fair. Technology is not only about shiny new devices, saving time and finding useful short cuts. It’s about spending a lot of money too. Let’s say a doctor opens up a private practice. Back in the day they only had to worry about hiring a responsible staff and dealing with tons of paperwork. That was already enough to scare away a lot of people. But now in addition to all that, private doctors have to keep up with the newest technologies also. That means a lot of extra studying and constantly being up-to-date. Which is not only hard on the doctor but also on his/her bank account.

You can keep listing pros and cons for hours, but it doesn’t change the fact that technology is a crucial part of medicine. And not just in theory, but in the smallest details of everyday life.

Health Apps – Make Them Simple And User-Friendly

There’s no arguing that health related mobile apps are widely popular. When you look at the number of downloads, that is. The picture is a little different when you dig deeper and take a closer look at how costumers are using these applications.

A recent study carried out by the Consumer Health Information Corporation (CHIC) showed that 26 percent of the downloaded apps are used only once. And that’s not the only surprising data. 74 percent of people, who used their apps more than once stated, that they quit the app after the 10th time. So what could be the solution? What makes apps effective and worth keeping.

The study also suggested, that the top reasons for quitting an app are the release of better versions and lack of user-friendly features. Also, more than 90 percent of respondents said that easy navigation is a key element, as well as gaining information. Almost 80 percent stated, that they would be more likely to use health apps that can give feedback in an interactive way.

So there they are, the key elements for a successful health application:

  • user-friendly, easy to navigate
  • constant updates
  • rich in informative content
  • interactive

These days people are surrounded by technologies that have these key components. They are used to quick solutions, easy-to-use devices and programs. And it’s safe to say they are not going to settle for anything less when it comes to health apps.

(Source: HealthcareITNews)

Smartphones In Healthcare – Accessories Or Helpful Devices?

“Are you a physician? Then you gotta have a smartphone!”

I have heard this many times the last couple of months. From medical students starting their rotations to experienced health professionals. And while their reasons were slightly different, the statement shows a real requirement. But what is this really about? Is a smartphone an accessory or is it a necessary tool for health professionals?

According to a study carried out by Bulletin Healthcare, mobile consumption of medical news grew by 45 percent between June, 2010 and February, 2011. The results were based on the habits of more than 550 000 healthcare professionals. The analysis wasn’t about the growth of smartphone sales, but accessing health information. This data suggests that the trend is not only about showing off your shiny, new device, but more about getting information.

Another survey shows an even higher rate of smartphone use in the healthcare segment. EPG Health Media studied the smartphone adoption among physicians both in the US and Europe. The results, published in October, 2010 showed that 81% of US respondents owned a smartphone, while the rate was 44% in Europe. When studying the actual use of these devices, EPG Health Media found, that 95% of doctors, who owned smartphones downloaded applications for health information. Again, this is not just about a high rate of ownership, but actually accessing medical information.

In a fast pace professional environment like this physicians don’t want to fall behind. Hospitals and healthcare organizations don’t want their staff to fall behind. That’s why medical students wouldn’t step into hospitals without a smatphone anymore and why well-established health professionals are willing to upgrade their mobile devices. Staying relevant as a physician nowadays requires to access information quickly and constantly. Not having a smartphone makes this a lot harder if not impossible. If you’re a physician, you gotta have a smartphone.

(Sources: HealthcareITNews, EPG Health Media Blog)