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42% of docs fear mHealth will lessen their power over patients

By Jennifer Bresnick

Patient empowerment might be going a step too far for nearly half of physicians surveyed in a PWC report about mHealth.  While 27% of providers actively encourage their patients to use mHealth applications to take control of their health, just under half acknowledged that this increasing independence may shift the balance of power in the patient’s favor, leading to an erosion of the trust that’s so central to healthcare today.

Patients remain highly interested in the use of mHealth on a smartphone or tablet to monitor their health, motivate changes, communicate with providers, and collect personal data.  Nearly 60% said in the next three years, mHealth will change how they seek information on health issues, and around half believe that providers will get on board, changing the way health information is communicated.  Patients look forward to the increased convenience and availability that mHealth will bring the, and 48% think that mobile medicine will improve the quality of their care.

While patients are embracing mHealth as a way to increase access to health information and the control of their own personal health information (PHI), physicians aren’t entirely sure they like the way the industry is heading.  Thirteen percent of physicians actively discourage the use of mHealth apps among their patients.  Many of them are younger physicians, who perhaps recognize the impact of technology on their own lives, and don’t particularly like the convenience and independence that might cut their profession out of the loop.

“mHealth is about fundamentally changing the social contract between patients and doctors,” said Eric Dishman, Intel’s director of health innovation at the time of the 2012 PWC report.  “[Physicians are] likely to resist the loss of power implicit in greater patient control.”

“The real solution to that last problem is not for physicians to discourage the use of mobile apps, it’s better patient education,” counters Paul Cerrato from InformationWeek Healthcare. “That means developing a trusting relationship with patients so that they believe you have their best interests at heart when you try to steer them away from untrustworthy mobile apps and websites.   A growing number of doctors also welcome a shared decision-making process with their patients and see the doctor/patient relationship as a partnership.”

Many physicians do recognize the positive possibilities for increased communication with mobile health.  Just over a third believe it can help monitor a patient’s condition, while 38% enjoy the idea of having remote access to EHR data.  If mHealth was shown to improve the quality of care, 36% would adopt the technology more fully.  Payers are embracing mHealth, too, especially in emerging international markets where healthcare is exploring ways to leverage mobile technology to conquer geographic and economic obstacles.

Physicians are experiencing a wide variety of technology initiatives and system-wide reforms that may make them feel like they’re on shaky ground, but as the mHealth market matures and valuable products distinguish themselves from the pack, consumers and providers alike may be more likely to view mHealth as a collaborative tools rather than a struggle for control.

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