Mobile: A game-changer for those that get in the game

By Brian Dolan

Participatory medicine is taking hold among citizens and health professionals, The Pew Internet & American Life Project's health research and digital strategy head Susannah Fox said during an plenary session here at Health 2.0 in Boston. There are, however, pockets of people who lack access to basic technology, lack the skills to participate, lack the interest to try something new, or lack the feeling they are welcomed to participate, she explained.

About 39 percent of adults are "motivated by mobility," Fox discovered while conducting a soon-to-be-released Pew survey. This group is always online, checking their email or browsing the Internet, she said. The rise of the wireless Internet, however, has not served as a replacement for what we all do on desktops, but rather as a complementary activity, she said.

In the health context, Fox explained, "If you can tap into that mobile hive, you have a chance to have an impact, but most Americans, 61 percent, fall into the 'stationary media majority.'" In this group, many are on the "have" side of the "haves" and "have nots," Fox said. Many have broadband at home and cell phones in their pockets, but they are rooted in old media. They are not workers in the mobile hive.

"If you are someone who thinks that online collaboration is a good thing," Fox said, "Then you haven't convinced [the stationary media majority]." Eight out of ten Internet users have looked online for health information, but just as our increased mobile Internet use has not replaced our desktop mobile usage, so too has searching for online health information served as a complement to seeking medical advice and information from family, friends and healthcare professionals.

According to Fox's survey, 41 percent of respondents said they had the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their own health, but Fox's survey found that only 5 percent of epatients have posted comments or information on medical matters online. Only 5 percent of epatients have posted a review of a doctor online. Only 4 percent have posted an online review of a hospitals. That said, about 25 percent of epatients have looked at those reviews online. We need to get more contributors online, Fox concluded.

Finally, Fox pointed to how President Obama's election team leveraged technology, including mobile tech, to encourage and enable supporters to donate, volunteer and vote.

"Keep an eye on mobile adoption," Fox said.  The always-connected, always-online consumers are in the best place to really effect the health system. "Mobile could be a game changer," Fox said. "But only for those that get in the game."