Smartphones, tablets, and mobile apps are changing the physician-patient dynamic. They are empowering patients to take better control of managing their health, and physicians are taking advantage of the conveniences provided by these technologies. At the same time, social media is revolutionizing communication across nearly every professional and community level.

Maria Fontanazza

May 11, 2012

6 Min Read
Mobile Apps, Smartphones, and Social Media. Why Aren’t Device Manufacturers More Engaged?

Smartphones, tablets, and mobile apps are changing the physician-patient dynamic. They are empowering patients to take better control of managing their health, and physicians are taking advantage of the conveniences provided by these technologies. At the same time, social media is revolutionizing communication across nearly every professional and community level.

MD+DI: What current challenges does social media present to how doctors are interacting with patients, hospitals, and device manufacturers?


Bunny Ellerin: Social media is being adopted more and more frequently by physicians, and they’re using it in some ways with patients. But I think the biggest issue right now is, what does social media represent? What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks? The benefit for physicians is that it gives them a voice. Historically there haven’t been a lot of open outlets where they could talk about issues that are important to them in a public way. Social media gives them a way to correct a lot of the misinformation that proliferates, whether it’s on apps, in newspapers, or on the Web. There’s a tremendous amount of health information available, but not all of it is accurate. Being able to be part of the conversation gives them a way to provide their patients with good content that’s vetted and validated.


[There are] some disadvantages –you’re on all the time, and none of us, whether [you’re] a doctor, lawyer, etc., want to be on all the time. That’s a challenge. How much do you really put yourself out there? Then there are regulatory and legal [concerns]. Honestly, from what’ I’ve seen, that’s a very small part of the reason why people may normally or may not engage. I think it’s really about time, and also some people don’t want to be exposed.


How does this relate to industry? If doctors, patients, and consumers are all there, you have to be where your customers are. For device manufactures, it’s really important to figure out how they’re going to be part of that conversation. It’s not a one-way communication where you just send out messages or you send out a rep who delivers the message. That paradigm is really shifting. Today it’s more about give and take interaction and two-way conversation. Having been in the device industry before, I’m a little surprised that they haven’t gotten there yet. The device industry is like the technology industry—there’s  constant innovation and change. It’s a little surprising they haven’t been more willing to figure out or get themselves to be part of that conversation. That’s said, there are a lot of opportunities. I’m going to look to [the device industry] to be leaders. They’re all about innovation and getting to the next iteration. So I feel confident they’re going to figure it out.

Developing technologies that enable a strong connection between medical device manufacturers, physicians, and the patient requires a change of mindset. Device companies need to engage more with their customer, the physician, to find out their needs in this rapidly changing environment , what they truly want to get out of medical apps, and where more integration needs to happen between medical apps and devices. Physicians are already very plugged in—various surveys pinpoint the smartphone adoption rate among physicians at about 75% to 80% and growing, according to Felasfa Wodajo, MD,  mHealth Editor of The tablet (mostly iPad) adoption rate could be as high as 45%. In addition, the market for medical apps has exploded since 2008. “There are apps in just about every niche and subspecialty addressing needs of physicians and, to a lesser extent, patients and consumers, says Wodajo, who is also a bone and soft tissue tumor surgeon. “But we’re still not there in terms of achieving the kind of mobile enablement that we hope to find one day.”


Wodajo suggests a few reasons why there is room for improvement for mobile medical apps:

  • High-quality specialty apps are lacking. “Right now small shops are producing decent apps, with one or two authors putting together a small app set that gives useful reference and information but doesn’t try to take the place of the larger resources that are available.”

  • The integration between mobile devices and data, mainly electronic health records (EHRs), isn’t satisfactory. The big obstacle here, Wodajo says, is that there isn’t a conversation between the mobile apps for EHRs and the larger world of medical apps.

  • The physician –patient culture needs to further evolve. More patients are connected, and they want increased access to their data and doctors.

Mobile apps have dramatically changed how many patients obtain information about conditions such as diabetes and pregnancy, along with keeping up with general wellness. Likewise, apps are helping physicians further educate patients about their conditions. Wodajo cites the Orca Health series of apps for physicians.  


Although such apps aren’t a platform on which physicians and patients can communicate, the market will need to reach that point for two obvious reasons, says Wodajo. The first is time and the extent to which flexible platforms should be used to share information. Surgeons can spend a lot of time counseling

“Social media isn’t about content distribution; it’s about conversation. It’s a very different thing; everybody’s equal. That’s a bit of a paradigm shift.” --Felasfa Wodajo, MD

patients, from diagnosis and discussion of treatment to the logistics of surgery. Having an app that streamlines this process would save surgeons time, and would empower patients about their condition, while also providing peace of mind.


The second reason is market demand. If patients keep asking for apps that enable communication with physicians, the market will need to follow.


“One of the real things to look forward to is the platforms that allow the physicians and patients real time together to benefit from the technology,” says Bunny Ellerin, president of NYC Health Business Leaders. Ellerin cites the drawMD app, which allows doctors to draw on an app and show the patient exactly what he or she will be going through in surgery—in a way that is palatable to the patient. “The connection enabled by technology actually could lead to a much better outcome on a lot of different levels. That’s hopefully where some of the future is.”


NYC Health Business Leaders is collaborating with the Mayo Clinic and Continuum Hospitals of New York on the Connecting Healthcare and Social Media conference next week, May 17-18. The event will focus on the role that social media plays in hospitals, including to build a community, media efforts, and the connection between physicians and patients. Wodajo will be speaking at the event during “The Rapidly Evolving World of Mobile Health, Apps & Devices for Physicians” session.


Ellerin on Healthcare Innovation in the Big Apple
"New York City Health Business Leaders is all about making sure New York is recognized as a leader in healthcare innovation. There is so much that goes on in the city, and the Tri-state area, in every sector—hospital innovation, pharma, and medical devices. We’re the undisputed healthcare media capital of the world. Now we’re seeing that health IT is becoming a really big part of the healthcare economy in the city. We’ve got incubators, accelerators, and tons of start ups. What is health IT? It can cover a wide range of disciplines from social to mobile health electronic medical records, to clinical decision support. It’s a nexus here."


 Maria Fontanazza is managing editor of MD+DI. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFontanazza.

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