The future of healthcare is reaching a turning point as digital technology begins to play a bigger role. As smartphone adoption increases, patients are beginning to expect service and treatment focused on accessibility and increased communication. These expectations will only be amplified as younger generations, who rely on digital technology in almost all aspects of their lives, begin to age.
Generation Y, generally people born during the 1980s and early 1990s, are also referred to as Generation Next, Millennials, and the Internet Generation. Generation Y's tech-savvy abilities result from their familiarity with communications, media, and digital technology. Generation Y grew up when these innovations took place. Defined by Nielsonwire as 18- to 24-year-olds who were born "sometime between the launch of the VCR and the commercialization of the Internet," their constant connectedness has changed the way companies market to their customers and the way companies provide products and services.1
The most recent U.S. Census finds 18- to 24-year-olds make up 23% of the population, yet they watch 27% of online videos, constitute 27% of visitors to social networking sites, own 33% of tablets, and use 39% of smartphones.1 With 1.8 billion mobile phone owners aged under 30 around the world, the youth mobile market is worth $360 billion annually -- 10 times the size of the global recorded music industry.2 According to MobileYouth Research, this number is expected to grow by 50% in the next 4 years, with emerging markets making up a significant proportion of the growth.2
While the number of people who own mobile devices is constantly increasing throughout all demographics, Generation Y is most known for their incessant usage of these devices. Growing up, this generation was constantly being told by their parents to put away their phones during dinner or to stop texting while walking or driving. As part of this generation, I know just how attached to these devices we tend to be.
This need to constantly be on our phones has changed the way companies market to their customers. Ads can now be seen popping up in mobile applications, between songs on music stations such as Pandora, and as banners on websites. Generation Y is accustomed to instantaneity. We have an extreme focus on receiving what we want, when we want it. Mobile technology has enabled us to buy almost anything with the touch of a finger. We can now watch movies and television shows instantly by streaming through our computers, tablets, and even our smartphones. We no longer have to drive to the bookstore to buy books and magazines; we can download them instantly on our mobile devices.
It's not that our generation is lazy (though our parents may argue otherwise), but that we have become accustomed to convenience and speedy delivery. We are interested in saving time and money and use technology as a means to do so. Seventy-one percent of Generation Y respondents in a survey conducted by Cognizant and RIS News said they use mobile coupons to get e-commerce discounts, and 64% of affluent app users say they view brands with mobile apps more favorably.3 We use our mobile devices to research information, compare prices, search for reviews, and find quick fixes to problems ranging from locating the nearest Starbucks to tracking and managing our health.
In fact, health applications are becoming increasingly popular. There are currently 8,112 healthcare and fitness applications and 5,219 medical applications available in Apple's App Store. These apps range from calorie counters and fitness trackers to apps that provide doctor consultations, medical guides, and injury prevention. Companies such as Walgreens and CVS have come out with apps that allow their customers to keep track of their medications, fill prescriptions, and schedule pick-up times, all on their mobile devices.
In 2011, 124 million users downloaded mobile health apps on their iPhones. In 2012 the number of mobile health application users (those who will download a smartphone mobile health app at least once) will reach 247 million, meaning within one year, the number is expected to double.4
The global revenue for mobile health applications in 2012 is expected to be $1.3 billion, up from 718 million in 2011. This increase will result from downloads, in-app advertisements, mHealth services, direct transactions and sensor sales.4
Today's Informed Consumer
We can only expect the demand for health applications to increase as younger generations age. A study of smartphone adoption conducted by Pew Internet Research found that for older adults, smartphone ownership tends to be relatively uncommon across the board, especially for less educated and affluent seniors, while young adults tend to have higher-than-average levels of smartphone ownership regardless of income or educational attainment.5 The study also found that 29% of total app downloaders downloaded an application that helped them track and manage their health.
People are going to download apps that cater to their interests and needs. It was found that young adults were more likely to download apps that help them communicate with friends and family. As this generation ages and they become more concerned with their health (as they encounter more health issues), it is inevitable they will look for solutions to health where they have been searching for solutions to everything else -- their mobile phones.
The study by Pew Internet Research found that age is the strongest predictor of app use. The 18-29 age group are not only more likely to download apps, they are also more intense users of the apps they have.5 I do not expect people in this age group to stop using applications as they age. We rely on these devices for helpful information and I believe our health concerns for ourselves and our family will drive us to use health applications to keep track of important health information and as a way to answer health concerns as quickly as possible. Our generation will expect healthcare providers to utilize these devices to provide the convenience and efficiency that we have become accustomed to.
Generation Y will demand service focused on access. They will want the ability to connect with their doctors effortlessly, receive thorough health information quickly and have the ability to track their measurements and compliance. They will want health applications that are efficient, save time and add value. Mobile health applications provide a way for them to do these things with ease.
Already we are starting to see increased demand for these services. According to Float Mobile Learning, 78% of U.S. consumers are interested in mobile health solutions. Medical/healthcare is the third fastest growing app category for both the iPhone and Google Inc.'s Android phones, based on information from Float Mobile Learning. Eighty percent of doctors use smartphones and medical apps while 40% of doctors believe mobile health technologies can reduce the number of visits to physicians' offices, which reached 1 billion in the U.S. in 2011.6
Preparing for Generation Y
The majority of medical and health applications are not intended to replace the medical advice and treatment of professionals. However, these applications are intended to get people engaged in their own healthcare and to save people time and money by reducing the number of visits to physicians' offices. They are extremely beneficial when it comes to prevention since they allow people to keep track of their own health and provide people with a sense of accountability.
About 88% of doctors are in full support of patients monitoring their health at home, especially when it comes to watching weight, blood sugar and vital signs, and many believe consumers should take advantage of the apps currently on the market to help along the process.6 Studies have shown that people are more likely to eat healthy if they keep a food diary.
If mobile health applications are providing people with information regarding health issues and acting as a medium to keep track of their health information, then we can hope people will start making healthier decisions when it comes to diet, exercise, and knowing when they need to seek the help of a professional.
In an article on Forbes' website, Derek Newell, CEO of Jiff, which provides a HIPAA-compliant social network and apps platform for healthcare, lists five ways digital applications and smartphones will transform healthcare. He lists improved access to healthcare, improved patient engagement, new provider business models (the explosion of inbound data from sensors and devices will create new opportunities for healthcare professionals), reduced Medicare fraud (in the future, digital apps will allow Medicare to correlate claims data with location, and time data from the digital health apps to look for fraud), and improved patient safety.7
Digital technology will enhance healthcare for medical professionals and their patients. The adoption of the use of technology in this field will take off as patients begin to demand the convenience and enhanced communication that these tools provide. It's time for health professionals to focus on the future of patient care. Because as Derek Newell stated in his article, "In the future, everything that can be done digitally, will be done digitally."
Bronwyn Spira is CEO and founder of FORCE Therapeutics and has been a physical therapist for over 20 years. Alexis Fotiu is an associate at FORCE Therapeutics with advanced knowledge of healthcare and technology.
1. Introducing Generation C: Americans 18-34 Are the Most Connected. Nielsen Wire. The Nielson Company. http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/nielsen-news/introducing-generation-c
2. The Top 51 Stats for Generation Y Marketers. The Next Web, 2012. http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2012/01/21/number-crunching-the-top-51-stats-for-generation-y-marketers
3. Industry Statistics: Mobile Commerce and Engagement Stats. Digby, 2012. http://www.digby.com/mobile-industry-resources/mobile-industry-statistics
4. Jahns, R., & Gair, G. US$ 1.3 billion: The market for mHealth applications in 2012. www.research2guidance.com/us-1.3-billion-the-market-for-mhealth-applications-in-2012
5. Brenner, J. Pew Internet: Mobile. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.asp&xgt
6. Mobile Medicine & Mobile Healthcare. Float Mobile Learning. http://floatlearning.com/mhealth
7. Newell, D. 5 Ways Mobile Health Apps Will Transform Healthcare. Forbes. www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/06/04/5-ways-mobile-apps-will-transform-healthcare