TUESDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- Plenty of Americans are
eager to use their mobile phones and tablet computers to better
manage their health care, a new poll finds -- though the nation has
a way to go before we're all consulting Dr. Smartphone.
Harris Interactive/HealthDaysurvey released Tuesday, more
than one-third of respondents who are online said they were "very"
or "extremely" interested in using smartphones or tablets to ask
their doctors questions, make appointments or get medical test
Similar numbers of respondents were eager to use mobile phones
and tablets for actual health-care services -- such as monitoring
blood pressure or blood sugar, or even getting a diagnosis. Such
phone and tablet apps are, however, either just getting off the
ground or not yet on the market.
The survey results show that the demand for digital assists to
health care is "strong and likely to grow," said Humphrey Taylor,
chairman of The Harris Poll.
But he added that big questions remain: What types of services
will consumers be able to get with their mobile devices, and
"The devil will surely be in the details," Taylor said, "and
these are very big details."
An expert in health-care information agreed. "Right now, we're
looking at a patchwork system," said Titus Schleyer, who heads the
Center for Biomedical Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute,
based at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.
Companies are developing a number of apps that, along with
equipment attached to your phone or tablet, can help diagnose
everything from ear infections and eye diseases to irregular
heartbeats and malaria. One goal is to bring better health care to
remote parts of the world.
But there are already apps out there designed for the masses --
including ones to manage your blood pressure or blood sugar
readings, for example. You take the reading via a monitor that
plugs into your smartphone, and the app records all the
information, which can then be e-mailed to your doctor or sent to
your electronic health record, Schleyer said.
Of course, your doctor has to have the systems in place to do
something with that information. And, Schleyer added, depending on
where you live, and what health system you're in, that may or may
not be the reality.
Schleyer said he has first-hand experience with the obstacles.
His wife found an app that let her record and organize her blood
pressure readings, only to discover that her smartphone "couldn't
talk" to their health-care system's portal.
She ended up just bringing her smartphone to her doctor's
"This poll shows us that the public is interested in using these
apps," Schleyer said. "But the health-care system has to make it
easier for them to do it."
Taylor said that in some other countries, services like these
are more widely used because they are required or doctors are
compensated to employ them. "But in this country," he said, "most
doctors and hospitals have little or no incentives to provide them.
They are unlikely to offer them until it is in their interest to do
Another poll finding was that, not surprisingly, younger adults
are more eager to use their smartphones and tablets than older
adults. Only one-quarter of people aged 65 and older were very
interested in using the devices to help manage their blood
pressure, for instance -- compared to 38 percent of younger
On one hand, Schleyer noted, older adults could stand to benefit
the most from such technology, because they're more likely to have
chronic health conditions and need more contact with their
On the other hand, they may simply not be as comfortable with
smartphones and tablets as younger generations are, he said.
Despite the interest in tapping into smartphones and tablets for
health care, some poll respondents had some misgivings. They were
less inclined to want e-mail or text "reminders" to exercise, quit
smoking, or take medication, for example.
Schleyer said that may be because it's a bit like having your
mom nag you electronically. Plus, many Americans are already
inundated with e-mails and texts. "People may feel there's already
too much digital information flying at them," he said.
Poll respondents were also worried about the security of their
electronically transmitted medical information: 47 percent were
"somewhat confident" it would be secure, while roughly 40 percent
were "not very" or "not at all" confident.
That's a valid worry, Schleyer said. However, he also doubts
that a hacker would have much interest in the blood pressure
readings you're sending to your doctor. "They're probably more
interested in your credit card number."
Schleyer thinks there's a lot of promise for technology to
improve health care for Americans -- if, for instance, consumers
can get not only test results sent to their phones, but also
user-friendly information on what those results mean.
"But right now, none of this is mature yet," he said.
The poll results are based on an online survey of 2,050
Americans aged 18 and older, conducted between May 22-24.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on
health information technology.