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Doctors Embracing Digital Technology – But Are Reluctant To Prescribe Apps And Wearables For Patients

Face-to-face communication still biggest influence on prescribing behaviour, says new report

Digital technology is bringing healthcare professionals and patients closer together – but face-to-face information from peers, KOLs and rep visits remain the biggest influencers on prescribing behaviour – that is one of the key findings of a global online survey of healthcare professionals published by market research agency Cello Health Insight.  

The firm’s second annual Digital Health Debate report also reveals that 62% of doctors say that patients often attend surgery with a self-diagnosis from web research, with 40% saying that patients often specifically request named prescriptions from online research – although there is significant geographical variation in this figure, with the figure rising to 65% in Italy and 45% in the US, whilst the UK sits lower than the global average at 28%.  

The report, which looks in detail at how doctors use digital technology, shows that 77% regularly use their smartphones at work for professional purposes.  The figure for the US is 73%, in the UK 82%.   However, despite embracing digital technology themselves, only 36% of doctors are likely to recommend a mobile health app to patients in the future, and just one in ten doctors globally own a fitness band – with only half of those using it regularly at work.  

Paul Mannu, director at Cello Health Insight, said, “What is really interesting about this study is that it shows that healthcare professionals are using digital technology widely, but that when it comes to what influences them to make prescribing decisions, personal interaction, especially with peers, is still more important.  

“Digital technology is, however, bringing doctors and patients closer together: it is interesting that medical professionals are as likely to use websites designed with patients in mind as they are those aimed solely at doctors.”  

“Doctor, I’ve done my own diagnosis and know what medication I need”

Patients clearly have a thirst for medical knowledge, and the trend for researching – and identifying – one’s own diagnosis shows no sign of abating. 
· 69% of doctors said that their patients look up their condition prior to a consultation, rising to 90% in Brazil, and 72% in the US and UK.
· 62% of doctors agreed that patients often come to them with a diagnosis they want to discuss having researched online.  This figure rises to 87% in Brazil, 68% in the US and 63% in the UK.
· 40% said that patients often specifically ask for a named prescription having diagnosed themselves online – a 4% increase from when the same question was asked in 2014.  In Italy the figure is 65%, in the US 45%, whilst in the UK it is lower than average at 28%.  

What’s App, Doc?  Only a third of doctors recommend mobile apps

Despite 41% of doctors agreeing that Mobile Apps could be a ‘game changer’, globally just 36% said they are likely to recommend a Mobile Health App to their patients, with the biggest barrier being the fact that not all patient have smartphones (and therefore the need for a universal system).
· In the UK 33% are likely to recommend a Mobile Health App to patients in the future.  In the US, the figure is 43%.
· The main reasons for recommending Mobile Health App use were: Diet and Weight Loss (70%), General Health and Fitness activity (65%), Health Monitoring (53%), Smoking Cessation (49%), and Compliance (45%).
· The biggest barriers to recommendation of wearable tech and Mobile Health Apps were: not all patients have smartphones (28%), possible inconsistent use of the app, leading to incomplete data (14%), integration with existing health electronic management systems (11%) and doctors not having the time or necessary skills to understand the data (10%).  

Where are the wearables?

Ownership of fitness tracking bands amongst doctors globally is just 9% (although 15% in the US) and 5% say they regularly wear a fitness tracking band while at work (11% in the US, 5% in the UK).  36% of doctors say they are likely to recommend a wearable technology device to patients in the future, although there are significant geographical variations in this figure (US 43%, UK 33%, highest in Brazil 67%).  

Paul Mannu commented, “Arguably wearable devices offer huge potential to individual health monitoring and management.  Yet despite the fact that wearable devices can track and record numerous areas of an individual’s health – from heart rate to weight loss, exercise frequency and intensity to glucose levels - it is mobile health apps where the medical  profession sees more opportunity to deliver better health outcomes in the near future.  

“This is certainly borne out by the evidence: globally almost twice as many doctors own a fitness tracking band as use it regularly at work, and if they aren’t doing it and leading by example, it’s unlikely they would expect - or indeed recommend - their patients to do so.”  

Face-to-face still the biggest influence

Information received face-to-face from peers, KOLs, pharma sales representatives and sponsored meetings/conferences were found to be the most trusted channels of communication, and also those with the most influence on a decision to prescribe.  

“The amount doctors are using digital technology, and the importance they attach to it as a way of engaging with patients, is definitely growing year on year,” said Paul Mannu.  “But pharma cannot view such channels as a panacea; the basics of engaging on a personal basis with doctors remains a crucial part of winning their trust and influencing prescribing decisions.  

“The key for the industry is to use insights such as those provided by the Digital Health Debate report to understand the diversity of doctors around the world, and then adopt relevant strategies to maximise return by talking to customers on the channels and in the way that ultimately encourage your customers to become your advocates.”
  • The Digital Health Debate is a report published by Cello Health Insight based on a global survey of doctors across the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the US, China and Brazil. 1,090 doctors were interviewed with online panel provider M3 Global Research. The full report can be downloaded at www.cellohealthinsight.com.

4th November 2015

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