Manhattan: Half of patients now use mobile for health

By Jonah Comstock
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Monique Levy, VP of Research at Manhattan Research Monique Levy, VP of Research at Manhattan Research

Although there's a lot of buzz about wearables and a lot of talk about tablets, the best digital channel to reach patients and consumers is still the smartphone, according to Manhattan Research's Monique Levy. At the ePharma Summit in New York City, Levy shared some data with an assembled crowd of pharma marketers about how patients use mobile.

"Everyone wants to know what’s happening with wearables," she said. "I wouldn’t worry about it. Unless you’re working in the innovation team and you’re thinking five years ahead, I wouldn’t stay up all night worrying about wearables. You need to worry about smartphones and what you’re doing to be mobile optimized."

Levy said that Manhattan is so confident patients are digital that they've dropped the phone part of their surveys in favor of online-only.

"We’ve shown again and again that patients are not only digitally engaged for health, but they are so throughout the patient journey and mobile is really driving that," she said. "We used to have the sense that people would go online when they had symptoms, and then go to the doctor and then through the traditional medical funnel. With mobile they’re online at multiple decision points in the journey."

Levy said that 86 percent of the general population is online for health. Half are mobile health users of some kind, two thirds use social media to seek health information, and one third communicate digitally with doctors. Three quarters interact with online pharma resources. 

"It’s a myth that patients don’t want to engage with pharma," she said. "They understand that pharma content has regulations, they even get that it’s biased, but they know it’s reliable if they can learn how to weigh the content that they get. So patients triangulate information and they want to use pharma content."

About 20 percent of patients say that mobile is essential for managing their care. That goes up to 32 percent for people with diabetes and 39 percent for people with MS.

"What people mostly do on their smartphone is look for information," Levy explained. "They’re not tracking their blood pressure or video conferencing their doctor; We’re not at that point yet. They’re using it to look up lots of different things: Where is my doctor, what do I need to talk about, how do I prepare for the conversation? What is this drug, what are my choices? Why should I take an oral versus an injectable?"

As such, pharma marketers need to optimize their websites for not just mobile, but mobile search, which can be challenging for companies that are converting a large amount of online content onto mobile.

And if companies are designing apps, they need to make sure they're designing to real customer pain points or addressing niche needs, rather than just building a tracking app for a tracking app's sake.

"In general my clients are wary about apps at the moment," she said. "There’s still people who are trying to pioneer niche apps, and it’s a great opportunity to do interesting work, especially around gaming and health development, but you have to be really careful about how you’re going to get users onto the app."

As for social media, Levy said two-thirds of patients will encounter health information via social media. They're "wary and cautious about what they see, but curious" she said. About a third of patients who use social media for health use it to compare drugs and about a third use it to validate their treatment decisions.