You don't have to look far to know that mobile usage is huge and continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Of the more than 300 million people in the United States, 96 percent have mobile phones. This is staggering to think of when just 15 years ago only 13 percent of the American population had mobile devices, according to CTIA.
Pushing this growth even further is the penetration of smartphones, which now represent 43 percent of total mobile phones, according to comScore. As these web-enabled devices edge closer to becoming the norm, consumers' habits are also changing when it comes to how they search for information online.
By 2013 the number of people using their mobile device to search on the Internet will overtake desktop Internet users for the first time, according to Morgan Stanley Research, and by 2012 more smartphones will ship than desktop computers.
Mobile Health Trends
Not surprisingly, how consumers and health care professionals search for health-related information online is also trending toward mobile. If you think about it, mobile Internet usage and health-related queries are a perfect match.
For example, when a curious or concerning symptom arises nobody wants to wait to find out what it is. They want accurate information and they want it now. And they're increasingly getting this information on their phones.
The Pew Internet Project found that 17 percent of cell phone users have used their phone to look up health or medical information and 9 percent have apps on their phones to track or manage their health. It also found that younger people, 18-29, are more likely to search for health-related information on their phones with 29 percent of this group acknowledging this practice.
The mobile trend is growing at an explosive rate. According to Google, current mobile health queries represent 18 percent of total search traffic, compared to 10 percent a year ago.
Health Apps, Mobile-Optimized Information
With more health-focused organizations offering apps and mobile-optimized information the choices for consumers are abundant. Most online health media companies have entered the market by offering downloadable apps.
Companies such as WebMD, MedHelp, and iTriagehealth, to name a few, offer a range of apps that consumers can download directly on to their phones. From tracking your weight loss to monitoring your sleep to getting accurate and timely information about symptoms or doctors, it's all now literally at your fingerprints, wherever you may be.
Healthline chose to first mobilize its entire website, rather than push out individual apps in order to give consumers full access to content and search applications such as SymptomSearch, TreatmentSearch, and DocSearch. While mobilized platforms don't currently monetize as well as pushing the consumer to "optimized for advertising" company websites, the consumer experience should be better.
The Next Evolution in Mobile Health Search?
A Chilmark research report showed that 63 percent of physicians use mobile health apps on tablets or phones. Currently these are used mostly for reference but it's not hard to imagine a point at which consumers and doctors will meet in the mobile/social space.
Rather than searching a vast array of information consumers may be able to ask specific questions of their own doctor, or the physician may be able to actually monitor the patient's progress through his or her smartphone. Or think of emergency situations when you are not in front of your home or business computer.
Using a mobile app to find the nearest urgent care center rather than a hospital based emergency room could save the consumer and the health plan 90 percent of the treatment cost, according to Chilmark Research. Just shifting a small percentage of ER visits to urgent care centers through mobile search could save billions of dollars annually. That's a very reachable upside with mobile health apps and solutions.
Mobile Health Search Possibilities: Seemingly Endless
It's an exciting time for consumers, doctors and health information providers alike.
To be fair, even with this dramatic shift in consumers' habits and growth in mobile health search, the majority of people still rely on their own doctor, friends, or family when it comes to health-related questions.
As mobile becomes more prevalent, however, and social is interwoven into the experience, both doctors and health-focused organizations will have to adjust in order to provide timely, accurate, and tailored information whenever and wherever it is most convenient for the consumer.