Measuring health care on the mobile curve

It’s becoming clear that more consumers than ever before are accessing health care information online. A recent Pew study found that users under 50 are more than four times as likely to use their smartphone to look up medical information than those over 65. Another study found that 70 percent of Americans over 65 with Internet access have searched for health topics.

My own experience reflects this: Kaiser Permanente members of all age groups make extensive use of kp.org, but users accessing the site from mobile devices tend to skew younger.

At first blush, one of the conclusions that we could draw from this is that we need to figure out how to make medical information more easily accessible to older users on mobile devices other than smartphones. This may be true, and it certainly sounds like a good approach in general, but to draw strong conclusions we need more data.

Do older users not see value in accessing health care information on mobile devices, or is this simply an adoption curve? After all, the demographics of accessing health care on mobile devices roughly aligns with smartphone penetration by age group overall. By that measure, the early usage patterns are looking pretty familiar, which could be seen as good news. A person’s health information is about as sensitive and private as data gets, and the data points to users being comfortable with accessing it both online and via mobile devices. Kaiser Permanente members are certainly asking for more mobile options, not fewer. When it comes to our mobile app, some of the most common requests are to integrate more features: texting, reminders, integrated email, camera, and more.

Other trends in mobile health care adoption are exciting for what they say about users’ interest in tracking and monitoring their own health every day. For example, health app users track exercise, diet, weight, and many other personal statistics. If we’ve reached the start of an adoption curve that looks like other mobile data (or technology) adoption, that bodes well for usage continuing to expand.

The mobile transition has been coming since before 2011, when smartphone shipments outpaced PCs for the first time, and tablets are beginning to add yet another dimension with their own unique usage patterns. We’re always learning new things about how our members use technology tools, and based on what we’ve learned about total health, these are exciting developments. Access to information and regular measurement of personal information are two huge first steps toward changing behavior and habits in way that lead toward better health.

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